Ode to Houston’s switched-off red light cameras

Just under two weeks ago, voters in the city of Houston, Texas, defeated Proposition 3 by a fairly wide margin, bringing the city’s controversial photographic enforcement of traffic signals (red light cameras) to an end. This morning, at 10am, as mentioned in a post to Swamplot and a story on KPRC’s (Channel 2) website.

And not a moment too soon. The road to hell is indeed paved with good intentions, and while the intentions of installing red light cameras may be good, the implementation and eventual result was bad. For one, any time you have money changing hands for something like red light violation fines, there’s an incentive for greed at the expense of safety. Even if the city or county governments don’t get the fines. Even if they go to local hospital trauma centers. Greed is greed.

You’ll have to just trust me on this, but months ago I once had occasion to make a trip by bus to the Willowbrook mall area, where one of the red light cameras is installed at State Highway 249 and FM 1960 (which is now named Cypress Creek Parkway in addition to its FM number, but was not at the time). I got to observe the intersection enforced by the red light camera. Most of the red light runners were not the “zoom through trying to beat the light” type that usually come to mind when someone mentions “running a red light.” No, these were people trying to sneak across on the tail end of a yellow, going by my estimation 20-25 mph (maybe even as low as 15 mph in some cases), well below the limit of 35 mph on the exit ramp/service road for FM 1960. These were not the menaces to safety that got the red light cameras up to begin with.

To make matters worse, after pacifying the angry citizens with a promise that red light cameras would not be used to issue tickets to right turn violations, the city reneged on this and quietly started ticketing them too. Why? Greed! Pure greed! My mom got one of these tickets.

The Houston red light camera era overlapped significantly with my run as a courier/messenger in the Houston area; thankfully, I never got a ticket from one, either on or off duty. However, knowing the cameras were there and I risked a rear end collision every time I stopped on a fresh yellow light just to make sure I didn’t get a ticket did nothing to ease my already stressful life on the road.

Maybe now that the people have spoken, the city of Houston can time yellow lights properly on traffic signals, a move proven to increase safety. It won’t make the city any money, of course, but wasn’t this whole thing about safety to begin with?

It should be noted that Baytown also voted out the red light cameras in the same election. However, other cities such as Pasadena, Jersey Village, and Humble, appear to be retaining their cameras at least for the short term. It is my sincere hope that these other cities seriously consider following Houston’s lead and put the matter up for referendum in the next election. It’s time to make the entire greater Houston area safer–by getting rid of the cameras and actually focusing on safety, not money.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to hunt down my recording of “Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead.” Good riddance, red light cameras. You won’t be missed.

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