City officials consider use of photo radar

By Trevor Hughes
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — Could photo radar be coming to Longmont?

City transportation officials have had informal conversations with their counterparts in Boulder to explore the benefits of photo radar, which uses a camera and a radar gun to automatically photograph drivers exceeding the speed limit. Fort Collins uses a similar system.

The city in 1999 considered and rejected speed cameras, arguing that running them cost more than the revenue generated by tickets.

Boulder now earns $250,000 annually from the program.

The renewed conversations about photo radar are, in part, a result of prompting by Third Avenue resident John Whitley, who for several years has been agitating for slower traffic on the road in front of his home.

Whitley said he’s talked with Boulder officials, and they say the equipment is now paying for itself. On a recent weekday, a photo-radar van in Boulder was issuing tickets at a rate of about one a minute.

Whitley is pushing for Longmont city officials to look into cameras again.

There is a precedent here: Whitley and other Third Avenue residents in 2005 persuaded the Longmont City Council to lower the speed limit on the road between Main and Hover streets from 30 to 25 mph.

When the city initially declined to install new 25-mph signs after the change, Whitley raised a stink, and the signs went up.

But police officers — in his opinion — weren’t doing enough to enforce the new limit. Whitley again raised the issue. Already this year, police have written as many speeding tickets on Third Avenue west of Main Street as they did in all of 2005.

But Whitley and others feel that while the changes have helped, too many vehicles are still speeding past their homes. Third Avenue is unusual in that it’s designated a collector street for heavy traffic but also has dozens of homes with driveways.

Newer neighborhoods are built so that heavy traffic is kept away from homes.

“I think I’m just the squeaky wheel on Third Avenue,” said Whitley, a stay-at-home dad.

He acknowledges that the city has improved the traffic in front of his house. The new Ken Pratt extension removed several thousand cars a day, and the new speed limit seems to have lowered the overall average speed.

He points out, however, that when the police department goes looking for speeders, officers still find them.

“When they focus on it, they are able to catch people,” Whitley said.

The police department sees things differently. Sgt. Bruce Wittich, who heads the department’s traffic division, pointed out that his officers have handed out 20 speeding tickets on Third Avenue so far this year, even though more than 7,000 vehicles travel that stretch of road daily.

“That’s not a lot of speeders. There’s not a large percentage of people speeding on Third Avenue. Compared to other streets, it’s about average or even less,” Wittich said. “It doesn’t mean there’s not a problem out there. For them, there’s a big issue, and that’s why we’re trying to work it more than we have in the past.”

Whitley and Wittich have chatted about photo radar, and Wittich said he won’t be looking into the subject again unless the City Council asks him to. Wittich said that since Longmont’s traffic accident rate is already lower than those of most other area cities, adding speed cameras wouldn’t help much.

“I suspect things haven’t changed a whole lot,” Wittich said. “Until we’re directed by City Council to research it further, we aren’t going to do it.”

Wittich, Whitely and the City Council all know that city residents consider traffic speeds and congestion to be among the biggest problems in Longmont.

Until something significant happens to the traffic on Third Avenue, Whitley said, he plans to keep putting up signs in front of his house asking drivers to slow down. The signs are provided by the city, but city workers recently took down several of Whitley’s signs because they were on the grassy strip between the sidewalk and the road.

Under city code, signs generally cannot be placed on the right of way controlled by the city. Whitley says he was given permission several years ago to put the signs there. City officials say that’s not the case, and they were required to remove them because someone complained.

Whitley argues that if his signs are illegal, then every other sign in the city right of way, including a number of them on Terry Street, also should be removed. One day last week, he had three signs in his yard and another in the city’s easement.

“I would love to take all the signs out. They’re ugly,” Whitley said. “But not until the city fixes the street.”

Trevor Hughes can be reached at 303-684-5220, or by e-mail at