Proof that LCG’s SafeLight/SafeSpeed program works is hard to dismiss.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012
Written by Walter Pierce

I’m not a fan of the SafeLight/SafeSpeed program in Lafayette. Nor am I an opponent. I don’t have strong feelings about cameras mounted at traffic signals and in mobile vans because they generally don’t affect me.Whenever possible I walk or cycle to work. But I have gotten one ticket through the program and I deserved it. I was hauling ass down Congress Street and breezed by a speed van, which dutifully and automatically snapped a photo of my infraction. A $25 ticket arrived in the mail a few weeks later. I paid it. But it didn’t tilt my dispassion about the program.

I am, however, a fan of science and engineering, of empiricism, reason and rationality. It’s why I accept theories like Darwinian evolution, anthropogenic climate change and gravity: The data prove it, the evidence is overwhelming, a majority of mainstream scientists — people much smarter than me with credentials and lab coats — accept them after rigorous, sceptical review.

So I couldn’t help but get a little tingly by the fusillade of evidence flying about the City-Parish Council auditorium last week as a police official and consolidated government’s top traffic engineer made a case for cameras — impregnable proof, dizzyingly incontrovertible data piled on in copious, analytical layers.

It was unfortunate that the council didn’t get around to discussing LCG’s contract with RedFlex — a contract that is set to expire late this spring (and will) if the three Tea Party-backed members of the council get their way (they won’t, methinks, not after last week’s presentation) — until well after 9 p.m. Most of the public in attendance, no doubt a majority of whom oppose SafeSpeed/SafeLight because the squeaky wheel gets the grease around here, had vacated the auditorium.

Two of the three sponsors of the anti-SafeLight ordinance don’t live in the city of Lafayette and can barely scrape together 10,000 city constituents among them.

I was struck by the rough treatment Director of Transportation Tony Tramel received by Councilman William Theriot, one of the sponsors of the ordinance to end the RedFlex contract and shutter the cameras. Theriot repeatedly cut Tramel off and was otherwise brusque and surly with the engineer. Indeed Tramel can come off as cocky. But when you’re armed with data like that, it’s hard not to be. Numbers, as they say, don’t lie. I got the sense that it was Tramel’s proof, not Theriot’s growling stomach, that occasioned the councilman’s glower.

In brief, the number of collisions at SafeLight intersections is down remarkably compared to before the cameras were installed; the cameras save the Lafayette Police Department resources and taxpayer money by allowing officers to focus on other, more pressing matters; the department would need to hire 38 officers to do the work the cameras are doing more or less for free; five polls conducted between 2001 and 2009 show support in the 60+ percent range for the program in Lafayette; the cameras have helped solve other crimes unrelated to speeding or running red lights; motorists are given a cushion averaging about seven miles over the speed limit below which the cameras will not be activated; and, most significant if you’re one who believes the program is all about revenue, less than one tenth of one percent of the more than 60 million vehicles that have passed through the camera-equipped intersections has received a citation.

Worth mentioning: Two of the three sponsors of the anti-SafeLight ordinance — Jared Bellard and Theriot — don’t live in the city of Lafayette and can barely scrape together 10,000 city constituents among them, which amounts to less than 10 percent of the city population, although SafeLight/SafeSpeed is a city-only program. This vindicates my having supported a repeal of the Lafayette Home Rule Charter and going back to separate city- and parish governments, which was shot down by voters last October.

Maybe my reluctance to embrace SafeLight/SafeSpeed has something to do with the phalanx most visibly supporting it — middle-aged, buttoned-down, balding men. That’s a fraternity I’m loath to join. I may be sliding inexorably into middle age myself, but I have a full head of hair and I’d like to keep it that way.

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