In discussing the City of Dubuque’s plan to implement cameras to deter speeding around town, the phrase “tap the brakes” comes to mind — in more than one aspect.
The obvious one: Police Chief Jeremy Jensen is desperate to get vehicles to slow down. Jensen says speeding is a contributing factor to many crashes and the vast majority of fatal ones. With 15 vacancies in the police department, Jensen sees cameras as a force multiplier. If drivers slowed down, that would help.
We also would suggest citizens up in arms and ready to do battle with the city over the suggestion of speed cameras now slow down and give the matter a little more thought. We recently learned that some things that local residents are worried about are not in city staff’s recommendation to City Council members. More about that later, but here’s a preview: No one is getting a ticket for going 2 mph over the speed limit. In fact, no one will get a ticket for going 10 mph over the limit in most cases.
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However, city officials need to slow down, too. While this might not be the overnight, slam-dunk deal that some citizens are making it out to be, it is moving too quickly, and residents clearly have questions.
Most residents first learned that city officials were considering speed cameras on Feb. 3 or 4 when local media, including the TH, reported that it was on the Dubuque City Council agenda that was released on Feb. 3. Under “action items” on the agenda was “automated speed cameras” and a description: “City manager recommending City Council implement automated speed cameras in the City of Dubuque.”
The following Monday, council members voted, 5-2, to support adding speed cameras, despite not having key details on how the program would be implemented and despite a sizable segment of residents who are opposed or at least uncertain about the cameras.
City officials argue that there will be plenty of time to air all concerns and address misconceptions.
Should City Council members approve the first reading of the related ordinance — the specific language of which only came out two days ago — on Monday, Feb. 20, the second reading would occur on March 6 and the third on March 20, assuming those readings are not waived, as is common on noncontroversial items.
At each meeting — as is the case with all council meetings — there is an opportunity for public input. Then, if council members approve the measure on March 20, the city would begin the process of seeking proposals from vendors. Implementation would likely occur no sooner than August.
While that doesn’t feel like a fast-track to city officials, the citizen perception differs.
Major local decisions are often discussed for months, if not years.
When an issue is likely to be controversial, governing bodies often hold public hearings for a full and broad discussion. Think about the Dubuque Community School Board listening to comments about masks in schools for hours before the matter went to a vote. Think about the Dubuque County Board of Supervisors hosting public hearings regarding ATV use on county roads. The city, too, holds public hearings regularly on planned developments, rezoning issues and other matters. And those hearings come before any votes are taken on the proposal.
With few details on the plan, and absent a broader process with public hearings, citizens filled the void with their worst imaginings, some of which will not come to pass.
- Vehicles exceeding the speed limit by 1 to 5 mph will not be fined. The city policy released Friday said that “generally” fines would be for vehicles that are 11 mph or more over the speed limit, with some exceptions.
- Drivers will have the opportunity to do community service to cover half the cost of fines, which will start at $100 each.
- The infraction would not go against a driver’s insurance or driving record.
- Challenges to the legality of cameras largely have been settled. The city policy would include an appeals process by which drivers could challenge the ticket in municipal court.
- Revenue from the tickets (which by state code cannot be donated to charity) would be plowed back into a traffic safety program, public safety measures and the program that would allow citizens facing these or other infractions to work off fines through community service.
- A local police officer will review and approve all fines.
A broader discussion could build a better understanding of the city’s goals and expected outcomes. Also, it would give the residents a chance to voice their opinions — and that input should be an important part of city leaders making decisions.
City officials long have relied on data to show why the need for policy ordinance changes. While the police chief enumerates reasons he would like to see the policy in place, the data has been fuzzy. Has the city seen an uptick in crashes resulting from speeding? At the time of the first council vote on the matter, city officials did not have that data.
Other data questions linger. If, for example, the city placed speed cameras all along the Northwest Arterial, it stands to reason that speeding on the road would diminish and presumably lead to fewer speed-related crashes. Would that mean the city’s total number of crashes would decline, or just on the Arterial? What does the data show from other communities that utilize cameras? Do they show broader effectiveness in decreasing crashes in those cities?
Dubuque city officials very often take months (or longer) to study issues before pursuing significant change. Think trash tipper carts. Think downtown parking. Think Five Flags Center expansion.
Speed cameras might just be part of a solution to stem serious crashes, protect officers and save police resources. But citizens should be given a data-driven plan to approach such a change to heighten the confidence that those outcomes can and will actually be achieved.
This city council is completely out of touch woth the people. And there is a reason they call him King Mikey.
If it is truly not about the money and revenue, start tickets at $50. That covers the $35 cost estimate of the service and gives the City $15 for traffic programs. People will always speed, even with cameras. Especially people that go excessively fast and are the cause of the high-speed crashes we wish to reduce.
Prosecution for profit. Turbocops are next.
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