HOUSTON – On Aug. 24th, the Houston city council cleared the way for a vote to be held in the November elections on whether to ban the traffic light cameras which began to see use in our area in 2006 (Ordinance 2010-0678). However city council member Anne Clutterbuck opposed this measure, citing a provision in the city charter that limits referendums of this type to being proposed within 30 days of a law going into effect (the ordinance in question was passed in 2004).
Clutterbuck, the city council member for District C in Southwest Houston stated in the meeting that “Items like this don’t belong in the city charter otherwise, we would be like California. … Anything we vote on at this table could be overturned by petition.”
Currently, there are more than 70 of these cameras active in the Houston area, most of them concentrated in the southwest section of the city. Each incident recorded by such a camera potentially generates a $75 fine. Since 2006, the cameras in question have generated more than $44 million in additional revenue for the city and the contractor, American Traffic Solutions, who administrates the system.
Not surprisingly, American Traffic Solutions and Keep Houston Safe, a political action committee funded in part by ATS are threatening to take legal action to attempt to prevent the amendment from ever seeing the ballot.
The Houston Coalition Against Red Light Cameras, one of the groups that organized the petition requesting the referendum, notes on their website that the use of cameras of this type increases the likelihood of rear end collisions at intersections utilizing these camera lights due to drivers being more prone to slam on the brakes at the intersections in order to avoid a citation. They also note that the traffic signals at several of the intersections using the cameras in the area consistently have amber light intervals which are below the required minimums established for the speed limits surrounding the intersection (also known as “short yellows”) with one such light at West Airport Rd. and Eldridge Pkwy reported as being nearly a second and a half shorter than the minimums established by the Institute of Transportation Engineers and required by the state of Texas.
No one from HCARLC was available for comment regarding the recent city council decision.
As a citizen of Houston who has never had a citation by one of these camera lights I cannot personally attest to the potential inaccuracies of the system, however I do take exception to the city council member and an independent contractor like American Traffic Solutions attempting to limit my rights as a voter by means of a “rule” established in the city charter.
The idea that a citizen’s right to vote can be limited by a rule put in place by a local authority seems absurd on the face of it and yet this obscure provision in the Houston city charter is at the heart of the current debate and it appears that because of this, the issue will ultimately be left up to the courts to decide if the city does indeed have the ability to dictate what the voters can or cannot decide to vote upon.
Some of the information in this article was obtained from : www.houstontx.gov as well as from the Houston Coalition Against Red Light Cameras at: www.houstoncoalition.net
“Texas: Red Light Camera Company Spends $230,648 to Fight Public Vote.” TheNewspaper.Com: Front Page. Web. 26 Aug. 2010. .