December 22, 2004
Red light cameras approved

The Houston City Council has approved traffic cameras for certain intersections as a way to combat red light running.

The ordinance cannot go into effect for at least 120 days, which would presumably give the city enough time to choose a vendor through a competitive bidding process and begin issuing citations around April, said City Attorney Arturo Michel.

Houston officials have said they would like to install the cameras at about 50 dangerous intersections, but they may start with as few as 10.

Mayor Bill White, a proponent of using the cameras, said all intersections with cameras would be clearly marked.

Well, at least you'll know where you're being recorded. What's the over-under on the first report of image data being misused?

The Lege may still have the final word:

because of long-standing opposition by the Texas Legislature and a 2002 opinion by then-state Attorney General John Cornyn, only one Texas city uses the cameras.

The Legislature has for the past several sessions turned down requests to allow cities to use cameras to catch violators. In 2003, the House voted 103-34 not to allow cities to use cameras to issue criminal citations to red-light violators.

In 2002, Cornyn said a proposal by the city of Richardson to use cameras to issue civil citations to red-light runners would violate the state constitution because the offense was already a Class C misdemeanor that could only be regulated by the state.

To get around state restrictions, state Rep. Linda Harper-Brown, R-Irving, inserted an amendment in the 2003 transportation bill giving cities the right to regulate transportation matters civilly or criminally.

Michel said this provision gives the city legal authority to issue civil citations. In addition, he said Houston's civil violation is technically different from the state's criminal violation. He said the ordinance cites people for being inside an intersection during a red light, while the criminal violation cites violators for driving through an intersection line during a red light.

Councilwoman Addie Wiseman, one of two council members to vote against the ordinance, accused Michel of "splitting hairs," saying she is not convinced the ordinance will pass legal muster.

State Rep. Gary Elkins of Houston, who led opposition to cameras at intersections during the 2003 session, has said there would be "overwhelming support" in the upcoming 2005 session to pass a law prohibiting Texas cities from using cameras for traffic-light enforcement.

Councilwoman Ada Edwards said she voted against the ordinance because the civil citations would not do enough to deter drivers from running red lights.

When was the last time Addie Wiseman and Ada Edwards joined together to oppose something? Municipal government sure can make strange bedfellows sometimes. We'll see if Rep. Elkins follows through on his threat. I can't say I'll be upset if he succeeds.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on December 22, 2004 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles | TrackBack

If you get a chance sometime, watch the floor debate on HB 901 from the 78th Legislature (the red light camera bill), the video from which is archived on the website. That legislation wasn't just defeated, it was ridiculed, raucously humiliated. Before it was finally voted down, members attached an amendment saying the cameras could only be used in towns with less than fifty residents! Elkins was one of a half dozen floor leaders fighting it. I'll wager he can make good on his boast. And it'll be fun to watch, too. :-)

Posted by: Scott on December 22, 2004 3:46 PM

I still say they need to fix the ridiculously short left-turn green arrows in this town before doing this. First things first. Let's make the lights less obnoxious to discourage red-light running. Oh wait, that would COST money to fix and lead to fewer fines. Can't make things safer if it doesn't fatten the city coffers...

Posted by: Tim on December 22, 2004 7:24 PM

So... as my late father would have asked... whose brother-in-law sells the cameras? That person, and a raft of lawyers, are the real beneficiaries.

People who normally wouldn't fight a ticket, seeing in these new cameras a real opportunity to beat it, may take it to court. Now that will save taxpayers' money, won't it!

If it saved lives as well, I wouldn't object. But it won't. Most people who push deeply orange lights... I've been known to do it, when two or three people are speeding right behind me... are simply not thinking, and these cameras will not make them think. The cameras are a boondoggle, nothing more.

Posted by: Steve Bates on December 22, 2004 9:01 PM

Those of you who think it won't work - how do you explain the pretty dramatic success cameras have had in other cities (like, 100 other cities)?

Is Texas just different?

Posted by: John on December 22, 2004 11:36 PM

Let's review the facts:

Red light cameras work. They reduce the number of people running red lights.

Conclusion: I don't think it is too big a jump to say that fewer people running red lights means the city will be safer.

Example of an unfact, non-fact, or bullcrap.

Mayor White is instituting this reform to pad his own pockets.

Yeah, good one. I know the one thing Germo Blanco does everyday is try to graft for himself (I don't know what his yearly salary was as CEO of Wedge, but I bet it is 5 million more than the 160,000 he now makes as Mayor).

Now you say that Mayor White wants to pad city coffers. Does this sound familiar? I heard a tow truck drive tell me the same thing. . .

I would imagine, just like with the tow truck ordinances, all money collected will go to a specified fund.

Please bring more than 'big brother,' 'city coffers,' and 'his brother-in-law' to the table if your going to deal in reality.

Oh, and unless you run red lights, don't worry about it.

Posted by: Red Dog on December 23, 2004 10:46 AM

Houston's civil violation is technically different from the state's criminal violation. He said the ordinance cites people for being inside an intersection during a red light, while the criminal violation cites violators for driving through an intersection line during a red light.

This is the trick that makes this ordinance so repellent. Under state law, you're only guilty if you enter the intersection after the light has already turned red. If this ordinance had merely mirrored the state law, I wouldn't have too much of a problem with it (although the misuse of data objection is still valid). But as it stands, you can be fined if you enter on a yellow light and it turns red before you get all the way through! Thus, this ordinance effectively shortens all yellow lights by one or two seconds.

You may see less red-light running, but I'd bet you'll see more rear-end collisions when someone makes a panic stop at a yellow light.

Posted by: Mathwiz on December 23, 2004 3:13 PM

"But as it stands, you can be fined if you enter on a yellow light and it turns red before you get all the way through! "

Well, duh. That's the law. When you see a yellow light, you are supposed to STOP if possible.

You are supposed to be OUT of the intersection, 100% out of it, when the light changes.

Those of you who are still in the intersection when the light changes, by the way, are effectively shortening the green cycle for people on the cross street. You're supposed to be OUT OF THE WAY when they get a green.

Posted by: John on December 23, 2004 9:08 PM

This is a sad approach to fixing pre-existing city problems.

We as a mixed community of people from different states and countries should FIRST FIX what is not working before adding additional levels of bureaucracy.

Traffic lights across the city DO NOT cycle consistently.

Two-second Green lights are sufficient only for one vehicle at a time to legally pass through an intersection. The city traffic is plagued with inconsistencies that the city needs to correct before invoking new regulations.

We have yet to train drivers from other states to the fact that there is NOT a two-second delay between opposing sides of an intersection before the red light changes. A number of other states utilize the additional delay as a similar method of extending the yellow light to allow drivers to finish getting through the intersection. NEITHER of these methods correct any problem, they simply allow adequate time for everyone to finish running the lights.

The above is accompanied by those persons newly arrived from down south of which normally CHARGE an intersection to gain the right of the intersection. In this environment the driver speeds up during the yellow light and claims intersection privilege by getting under the red light before other drivers. The fact that they may not be using their horn to announce their position, as done in Mexico and other countries, is of no consequence as they still charge the intersection.

How will the many drivers in Houston be processed when the law that requires them to change registration within the first 30-days of arrival in town to convert their TDL address and vehicle insurance coverage is GROSSLY unchecked. The SINGLE PICTURE CAMERA system will not be able to attach a letter/fine to those whom have yet to establish valid ID or places of housing.

Criminals will succeed within this plan and common citizens will be punished.

Common situations can easily cause a mid-intersection delay and therefore a FALSE issuance of a ticket.

1) Often a group of people will be proceeding (left lane generally) into an intersection and suddenly stop as there all available room to fit into the intersection has suddenly been consumed. The last person entering the intersection often has to stop mid-intersection and wait a moment before proceeding into the neighboring lane to finish the transition into the intersection. Any group of situations can cause the last person (legally entering the intersection) to become stuck mid-intersection wherein using a SINGLE PICTURE CAMERA system will falsely accuse that person of running the light.

2) An emergency vehicle enters an intersection and vehicles scatter about to allow that emergency vehicle to pass. What happens when your vehicle is caught mid-intersection in a SINGLE PICTURE CAMERA system environment yep once again falsely accused of running the red light.

The city should FIRST advertise (All Languages of: TV/Radio/Newspaper) that there is NO additional two second delay between switching of red lights, all vehicles in an intersection have the same right to priority to pass through an intersection and not the first one to arrive in the intersection, the city should better identify and convert new residents to current ID and registration, lets communicate with the court system of other cities to see how much additional work load will be placed on the court system due to the appeals process of incorrectly issues tickets by this SINGLE PICTURE CAMERA system.

FIRST, FIX WHAT IS NOT WORKING, then consider changes.

Posted by: charles sterling on December 31, 2004 1:05 PM

Anyone else here ever made a mistake?

I don't know about you, but I have. And even a cop sitting at every intersection in Houston wouldn't write half the tickets these things do.

All I ask is for human reaction not to be judged on machine scale. Being .004 seconds too late (imperceptible to human senses) and getting a ticket for it would piss me off.

Anybody know the exact point at which these things take pictures? i.e., how long after the light turns red? Immediately? 2 seconds? I may be mistaken on assuming how many they would write.

Posted by: James on May 11, 2005 6:26 PM

Next we'll be putting cameras at stop signs near your house, then on the street lights. Then next on all mailboxes and fire hydrants. Look at England, they have cameras everywhere and there crime is under control. Suckers.

It's all because Houston city council is incompetent and wasteful. SAFETY could be improved by eliminating the light rail that GOES ABSOLUTELY NO WHERE, and doesn't help anyone COMMUTE from their homes. And while were at it lets get rid of that silly safe clear, that has already claimed lives because people were trying to push their disabled cars frantically off the freeway before getting a ticket. I love when politicians reccomend things under the guise of increasing safety, when in the end they all know it's just another revenue stream. What a crock, does anyone know how to stop this? Or do anything at the City level to have citizens protest this?


Posted by: Jake on August 24, 2005 10:03 PM

I am amazed every day at the amount of nothing we as a people are willing to do to fight this crap. Can you see what this is really about? its about losing everything incrementally,I mean EVERYTHING, your voice,your property,your weapons, and your right to move about freely on the most basic level. Its a very slick sell too, RFID,microchip implants,tracking cell phones, all protecting our precious assets and innocent little children and pets. How could any self respecting young republican argue with such wonderful products "HOORAY FOR BIOMETRIC SCANNING". Welcome to the war on terror or should I say the war on freedom and the constitution.

Posted by: perry on December 24, 2005 12:01 AM


Posted by: Lawrence on January 7, 2006 8:39 AM


Posted by: Dave on October 17, 2006 11:23 PM

I need to know if anyone in our city government has any type of timming record on any or all traffic lights .

Please email me a freind of mine was on calvacade and elysian and she was hit by an unlicesend driver and not from the us
i need to find the records for that light

if you know please let me know email me

Posted by: Alicia on November 8, 2006 5:08 PM