Aha! This is why Houston rushed installation of 20 more red light cameras

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Remember when the city hurriedly installed 20 more red light cameras, even though the 50 that Council approved had already been installed? Suspicion was that this was to beat a new state law that imposed some limitations on the revenue-generating devices. Now we know how true that suspicion was. From TheNewspaper.com:

A little-noticed provision of Texas law took effect at the beginning of the month to force cities using red light cameras to appoint citizen oversight panels. The provision caused disruption in the city of Lubbock’s red light camera plans yesterday.

According to Texas Transportation Code Section 707.003: “A local authority shall report results of the traffic engineering study required by Subsection (c) to a citizen advisory committee consisting of one person appointed by each member of the governing body of the local authority. The committee shall advise the local authority on the installation and operation of a photographic traffic signal enforcement system established under this chapter.”

No camera installed after September 1 may issue a citation without this citizen’s panel first reviewing a detailed engineering assessment that presents alternatives to photo ticketing. The Texas Transportation Institute, for example, found in 2005 that merely adding one second of yellow warning time at traffic signals beyond the minimum amount yielded a forty percent accident reduction (view report).

The wording of the law ensures that city council members who oppose the use of red light cameras have the right to appoint representatives to the oversight panel.

MayorWhiteChiefHurttMarthaMontalvo had to be concerned about their chances to add more cameras with this obstacle. You’ll notice that Houstonians weren’t allowed to vote on the red light camera program; it’s not hard to guess it’d probably be voted down.

Let’s recall what Asst. Chief Montalvo said when those 20 cameras were added at the last minute:

Montalvo said the decision to add the new cameras had nothing to do with a new state law, which takes effect Saturday, that could require some cities to do engineering studies at new locations.

Boy, that’s ringing even more hollow now!

And then there’s Matt Stiles’ latest reporting on city-owned vehicles running red lights, including Houston police officers:

Houston police commanders say the city’s red-light camera enforcement program should increase safety at intersections by prompting “behavior modifications” in motorists.

Not all of their own employees are getting the message, however.

More than 100 Houston police vehicles moving through intersections without emergency lights were cited in the first year of the cameras’ operation, according to ticket data.

“We’re just like regular citizens. We’re only human,” said Martha Montalvo, an executive assistant chief with the Houston Police Department who oversees the program.

“We’re hoping for some behavior modifications from all angles, not only from our citizens but also from our city employees.”

Back when it was just the general citizenry she thought needed behavior modification, Montalvo wasn’t so forgiving.

She’s got a bit more empathy going now: We’re only human.

Maybe some longer yellow light times would help, Martha.

RELATED: Red-light cameras to city: You owe $16,425 (City Hall blog); HPD, METRO lead in red-light camera citations (City Hall blog)

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Anne Linehan is a co-founder of blogHOUSTON.