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City announces sweeping changes to road-safety camera program

5th March 2012   ·   0 Comments

On this past Friday, the City of New Orleans announced several major improvements to its road safety camera program, designed to promote fairness and to enhance public safety on our streets, particularly as it relates to the safety of school children in our neighborhoods. New Orleans’ program, which began in 2008, includes both red light safety cameras and speed safety cameras primarily in school zones.

Among the changes is a new “mile per hour” threshold for non-school zone time speed safety camera citations, a new proposed appeals process, more stringent collection of payments from all violators and proposed new citywide school zone hours.

“This program was designed to reduce red light running and speeding and it has done exactly that,” said Deputy Mayor of Facilities, Infrastructure, and Community Development Cedric Grant. “We want to make sure that our streets are safe, especially in areas near schools where children walk to and from and play near. This program has helped reduce speeding citations by as much as 90 percent when cameras are present and cut red-light running citations in half. An analysis of red-light safety camera violations issued in 2011 found that 89 percent were issued to the same vehicle only once, indicating that driver behavior is changing. It is our hope that the changes we are making today and in the coming months will clear up any misunderstanding about how and why the program operates.”

Neighborhood and school leaders support the road safety camera program’s ability to reduce dangerous driving behavior.

“Speeding cars are an obvious safety hazard in a residential neighborhood,” said Karen Duncan, president of the Upper Hurstville Residents’ Association, who supported the installation of a speed safety camera on Henry Clay Avenue.

Liz Manthey of Academy of the Sacred Heart said “Academy of the Sacred Heart wholeheartedly supports the traffic cameras in front of our campus located in the 4500 block of St. Charles Avenue. The flashing lights alerting drivers that they are in a school zone and word-of-mouth discussion by frequent users of the Avenue combine to encourage safe driving during school zone hours. We are grateful for the cameras which help to ensure the safety of our students, faculty and staff as they arrive at school in the morning and depart at dismissal.”

Shelly Raynal, Director of Public Affairs at Holy Cross School said, “Holy Cross School supports the traffic camera located in front of our campus at 5500 Paris Avenue. During school zone hours, the camera helps to promote the safety of our students, faculty and staff.”

Eileen Powers, Headmistress at Louise S. McGehee School, said, “As a Garden District neighbor, the Louise S. McGehee School supports the traffic cameras located on Prytania. School zones and speed limits are in place for good reason and the cameras ensure the safety of our students, parent body, faculty and staff. We are grateful the cameras encourage drivers to be extra cautious.”

Sean Wilson, CEO/Head of School at International School of Louisiana noted, “Daily, we witness the need for improved traffic controls around our school. ISL students cross Camp Street several times a day, not only at arrival and dismissal. They access Coliseum Park for recess and activities. They attend field trips by walking to catch streetcars on St. Charles Avenue. These safety cameras will increase controls and reduce unsafe driving during school hours, keeping our students safer. We support the installation of these cameras and appreciate the city’s efforts to protect children and families.”

An April 2011phone survey by research firm Public Opinion Strategies of 250 individuals who received violations found that more than three-quarters (76%) of them said they have driven more cautiously since receiving a violation. The survey also asked red-light safety camera violators whether they have driven more cautiously when approaching intersections with red lights, with 83 percent saying they had. Also, fully 78 percent of speed safety camera violators said they have driven the speed limit more often in school zones since they received their violation.

New Threshold For Speed Safety Camera Citations

Presently, speed safety camera citations are issued when violators exceed the posted speed limit by six miles per hour inside of a school zone. Citations are also issued when violators exceed the posted speed limit by six miles per hour outside of school zones and during non-school zone hours on streets where the posted speed limit is 25 miles per hour and by ten miles per hour on streets where the posted speed limit is 35 or 40 miles per hour.

Starting Monday, March 12, 2012, the threshold for issuance of speed safety camera citations on all streets during non-school zone hours and outside a school zone will be 10 miles per hour or greater over the posted speed limit. The citation threshold will remain 6 miles per hour over the speed limit during school zone hours when the lights are flashing. This change allows for fair and reasonable enforcement in all areas of the city.

New Proposed Appeals Process

Presently, road safety camera citations are first appealed to city administrative adjudication hearing officers with a subsequent appeal to Civil District Court. Because the Civil District Court requires a mandatory and non-refundable $476.50 filing fee—which is always in excess of the cost of the violation—the city will be proposing legislation in the upcoming state legislative session that would alter the jurisdiction of the New Orleans Traffic Court so that the second appeal could go instead as a de novo appeal (meaning a new trial) to Traffic Court. This would basically be a new trial for the appellant.

Subsequent appeals would then be allowed at Civil District Court, the 4th Circuit and ultimately Louisiana Supreme Court. The move to Traffic Court will improve access, reduce partiality to the city and reduce the costs of such appeals for residents as the petition in Traffic Court comes with no initial cost. Minimal court costs could be added if the Traffic Court finds the appellant liable for the violation. The costs associated and limited access for appeals in Civil District Court was brought to the attention of the Landrieu administration by state Representative Jeff Arnold.

Additionally, the city will instruct hearing officers to adjudicate only the first citation of multiple citations when the repeat offenses come before the resident received the first notice of citation from the city for the first offense.

More Equitable Collections

As part of efforts the Landrieu administration is taking to improve collections across the board, the city will strengthen efforts to collect on delinquent road safety camera tickets,especially for those violators who have multiple delinquent citations.

In addition to field noticing and more aggressive booting, the city will now send those scofflaws with $500 or more in delinquent fees and fines a letter notifying the individual of the potential for civil litigation. The City Attorney’s office will then use its discretion in pursuing litigation as appropriate for scofflaws who are non-responsive.

In addition to efforts to improve collections of frequent violators who owe, the city will undergo several efforts to ensure that all city employees are paying for citations issued to them, including while on the job. The city is updating employee policies to ensure that tickets are properly distributed to the vehicle liaison in each department for timely distribution to the employee who was operating the vehicle at the time the violation occurred; City employees who do not pay for the citations they receive will be notified of their delinquent status and have 30 days to pay or will be subject to disciplinary action and their departments may be forced to pay for the citation out of departmental funds; and waivers for public safety vehicle violations will be limited to occasions when higher speeds have been approved by supervisors based on a request for service from the public. All of these changes are now memorialized in writing.

Jackson Avenue Speed Limit

One complaint has been the speed limit on streets with road safety speed and red light cameras. Using national standards, the Department of Public Works analyzed the speed limits on those streets. Public Works has determined that the speed limit on Jackson Avenue is low and that standards suggest it should be raised to 35 miles per hour. The administration will pursue this change with the City Council.

New Cameras In School Zones

Because the primary goal of the program is to reduce speeding in school zones, on March 12, the city will activate 11 new locations that have been requested by the community.

The cameras will be activated in the following locations, ten of which were placed for safety due to their proximity to schools and playgrounds:

• Eastbound Camp Street at International School of Louisiana

• Eastbound and westbound Dwyer Road at Miller McCoy Academy

• Eastbound and westbound Freret Street at former Audubon Primary Academy

• Eastbound and westbound Hammond Street at Resurrection of Our Lord School

• Northbound and southbound Jackson Avenue at Sci Tech Academy

• Westbound Annunciation Street and Second Street at Clay Square Park

• Northbound and southbound Pace Boulevard at Murray Henderson Elementary

• Northbound and southbound Press Drive at Coghill Elementary

• Eastbound and westbound Opelousas Avenue near Holy Name of Mary School

• Northbound and southbound Carrollton Avenue at Kipp Believe School

• Eastbound and westbound Prytania Street at Louise McGehee School

New Proposed School Zone Hours

At the request of several school operators, the city will seek to change school zone hours to better accommodate school day start and end times. School zone hours are currently 7:30 a.m-8:45 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.-3:45 p.m. Because school start and end times are less standardized post-Katrina, the city is looking to extend zone times from 90 minutes to two hours each as the current hours are outside of many of their start and end times. Many cities have two hours or more time ranges for their school zones. The new school zone hours would be applied citywide. The administration will seek to implement the change, including new signage, prior to the start of the 2012-13 school year.

This article was originally published in the March 5, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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