Traffic cameras in New Orleans take aim at speeders

by Bruce Eggler, The Times-Picayune Sunday April 12, 2009, 10:30 PM

On Monday, the city of New Orleans will add a new type of traffic-control camera to the red-light cameras that have been in operation for the past year, with the new tool aimed strictly at speeders.

While the existing cameras monitor both speeding and red-light infractions at major intersections with traffic signals, the five new cameras are designed solely to detect speeding on three major streets.
Map: view the locations of the new red light cameras
Citations will be issued to motorists caught speeding northbound and southbound on Paris Avenue near Prentiss Avenue, northbound and southbound on Toledano Street near South Galvez Street, and eastbound on Florida Boulevard near Milne Boulevard.
Michael DeMocker / The Times-PicayuneA motorcyclist drives past a newly installed traffic camera on Toledano at South Galvez Friday. The camera is designed to catch speeders.
More such speed-monitoring cameras will be installed in the near future, Public Works Department Director Robert Mendoza said.
"We want to ensure motorists are aware of these cameras and slow down on these roadways," Mendoza said.
"After seeing an 84 percent drop in speeding violations at our original safety camera sites, we began to receive requests from residents to place these cameras in their neighborhoods in order to slow down speeding traffic. In addition, we are implementing the first safety camera in a school zone area," he said.
The camera on Florida Boulevard will remind motorists exiting from Interstate 10 to reduce their speed as they enter a residential neighborhood.
The cameras on Toledano Street are intended to reduce speeding and help motorists on Galvez Street to cross the intersection safely.
The cameras on Paris Avenue are near Holy Cross School. During school zone hours, the cameras will enforce a 20-mph speed limit. At other times, they will enforce the normal 35-mph speed limit.
"Many schools have started to request these safety cameras in their areas,." Mendoza said. "If testing at this site goes well, we hope to provide safety cameras for many more school zones by the end of the year.,"Mendoza said.
New Orleans issued 61,531 citations in 2008 as a result of implementation ofthe camera program that began in April. But the number of citations dropped during the year as residents became more aware of the cameras and committed fewer violations. That trend matches the experience of other jurisdictions, Mendoza said.
Before the start of the camera program, the city estimated that there were 986 red-light violations per day at the 17 intersections that now have cameras. By December, the city was issuing only 145 tickets a day for running red lights at those corners, an 85 percent decrease.
Similarly, beforeprior to June, when the cameras were first used to monitor speeding, the city estimated that there were 978 speeding violations per day at the 17 intersections. In December, the city averaged only 154 tickets a day for speeding at the same sites, an 84 percent drop.
"Our goal is to make New Orleans' roadways safer, as drivers realize they can no longer run red lights and speed," Mendoza said.
The peak month for red-light camera citations was October, when a total of 11,745 tickets were issued: 6,428 for red-light running and 5,317 for speeding.
Tickets for red-light violations cost $140. Speeding tickets vary depending on the amount of excess speed: $80 for driving 1-9 mph over the limit, $115 for 10-14 mph over, $165 for 15-20 mph over and $240 for more than 20 mph over. In practice, though, motorists get a "cushion" of at least 5 mph over the limit before tickets are issued.
The fines include a $35 enforcement fee and a $5 surcharge that the City Council enacted this year to help support the Orleans Parish pPublic dDefenders oOffice. The late fee for tickets not paid on time is $75.
The automated camera system employs a combination of still and video cameras and detection equipment. A commissioned law enforcement officer reviews the images and video to determine whether a violation occurred. If the officer decides it did, a ticket is issued to the registered owner of the vehicle caught on film.
American Traffic Solutions of Scottsdale, Ariz., won the contract to administer the safety camera program by submitting the lowest bid. It receives between $10 and $29 for each paid citation.
ATS contracted with ETI Inc., a local minority-owned firm, to handle construction and maintenance services.
State records show ETI is run by Randall Moore, one of a dozen people who pleaded guilty in a City Hall corruption case involving a massive energy-savings contract with Johnson Controls. Moore, then the owner of National Contractor Services Inc.of New Orleans, admitted his involvement in a scheme to skim more than $1 million from the deal. He was sentenced in federal court to three years of probation and a $3,000 fine.