Zombie Bills

The dead do rise again

Colorado Public Radio (CPR) has recently been doing a series on so-called “zombie bills,” which are loosely defined as bills introduced and killed in a previous legislative session that reappear in the next session. In an election year, where introducing a bill can be as big a political statement in the process of campaigning as actually passing one, it is likely that retreads from the 2015 session will make a comeback.

Of municipal interest are two specific issues mentioned by CPR: construction defects and photo red/photo radar enforcement. The latter of the two was the subject of an interview with two respected members of the General Assembly in a fascinating interview conducted by Ryan Warner on the Colorado Matters segment. In the Q&A that followed, listeners were led to believe that cameras are on every corner; that studies show accidents increase when photo enforcement is deployed; that municipalities set up enforcement to enhance revenue; that people’s privacy is violated by use of photo enforcement.

While the hyperbole plays well in the media and elsewhere, the truth actually tells a different story. Municipalities that use photo enforcement conduct their own careful evaluations and traffic studies to make informed decisions on where red light camera and photo radar will be most effective to gain motorist compliance with traffic signals and speed limits.

Red light cameras are deployed at selected high-risk intersections. Speed radar is already restricted to residential streets, school zones, and construction zones and can only be used where the speed limit is not 35mph.

The allegations that photo enforcement is merely a revenue generator is wildly inaccurate. The end goal is safety and elimination of photo enforcement when motorists, pedestrians, and others are made safer by decreasing motorists speeding and running red lights. An example is the City of Littleton. While the CPR interview alleged that Littleton abandoned its photo red cameras because the city wasn’t “making money” anymore, the facts are actually quite different. Photo red enforcement was removed due to a decrease of 75% in violations. This showed a safer intersection as driver behavior changed as only 5% of citations were repeat offenders.

While strong rhetoric continues to come from the Statehouse, even members of the General Assembly are not clear on what they want. In the last session, they passed both a full ban, as well as a bill requiring a local vote – the latter of which is already a constitutional right already possessed by citizens by the constitutional right to initiative.  Yet, not one initiative has ever been filed, let alone placed on a local ballot. Ironically, nearly all the opposition in the Statehouse to photo red and photo radar comes from Representatives and Senators from districts that don’t have municipalities operating either or both

The so-called studies claiming red light cameras cause more accidents do not comport with the facts. Credible studies support the conclusion that motorist safety increases with photo enforcement and statistics from last year support it:

Fort Collins: Before use of photo speed radar city-wide, a speed limit compliance survey found only 19% compliance. That figure is now 60% compliance.

Commerce City: U.S. 85 and 60thAvenue intersection recorded a 41 percent decrease in accidents from 2012 to 2013.  For the first three years this camera has been in operation the number of citations decreased from 8,637 the first year to 5,457 the third year.

Boulder: Intersections with red light cameras together have seen a 68% decrease in accidents since installation and a 72% decrease in violations.

Littleton: Since program began there has been a 75% decrease in violations. Driver’s behavior has changed as only 5% of citations are repeat offenders.

Denver: At the intersection with the highest number of crashes before installation of cameras, the program has reduced injury accidents by 60%; side impact accidents by 62%; total accidents by 38%.

Sheridan: Speeding citations from photo radar reduced from 15,856 in the first year of the program (2011) to 10,009 in 2013.

CML’s Meghan Dollar is CML’s lead in the Statehouse on this issue.  Recently, she and others responded to the CPR story, which was noted in a follow up CPR “Loud & Clear” segment.

The facts are compelling – but only when they are acknowledged by those in the Statehouse that otherwise choose to ignore them. Equally compelling is the notion that municipalities should retain the right to determine how to best ensure safety on local streets. Supporting the hiring  of more police officers in lieu of other means of enforcement is easier to do from the capitol when not directly responsible for a municipality’s budget. As long as pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists remain at risk by those that ignore traffic laws by speeding in school zones and high-traffic thoroughfares and running red lights to get somewhere just a couple of minutes sooner, CML will continue to advocate for the ability for municipalities to employ the tools necessary to cut that risk.

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