Legislation advanced Wednesday that would strip Miami-Dade of its authority to install red-light cameras at county-run intersections, a move that would preserve the controversial devices in local cities but prevent them from expanding into many suburbs.
With two paralysis victims in breath-controlled wheelchairs watching from the front row, the County Commission’s Metropolitan Services committee sent the proposal on to the full board for a final vote.
The 4-to-1 committee vote put the panel on the side of motorists fuming about the omnipresent intersection monitors — and against paralysis groups that collect some revenue from the tickets and argue the devices prevent the kind of catastrophic collisions that put people into wheelchairs for life.
“I’m definitely disappointed,” said Ashley Moore, who was paralyzed in a head-on collision 18 years ago in Tallahassee and now lives in Miami.
The lopsided vote to advance the bill — only Commissioner Sally Heyman voted against — sends to the full commission legislation that would repeal a 2011 ordinance authorizing a county red-light-camera program. The county never actually launched the program, so the new legislation would only maintain the camera-free status quo for Miami-Dade.
Miami, Miami Beach and other cities run their own red-light cameras, and the proposed ordinance would have no effect on municipal programs, even if the intersection touches a county road within city limits. Instead, the ordinance would govern intersections throughout the unincorporated areas of Miami-Dade — roads and highways outside of city limits. A final vote before the 13-member commission is expected June 7.
I don’t think the policy was governed as much by safety as it was to generate government dollars.
Miami-Dade Commissioner Juan Zapata, talking about red-light-camera programs
The proposal would put Miami-Dade solidly in the anti-camera camp at a time when legal complications and voter ire are endangering the devices’ future in Florida. Court rulings have boosted administrative costs by making it harder to outsource analyzing the footage, while elected leaders are at the forefront of a backlash that have led some cities — including North Miami last fall — to cancel their camera programs. The Florida House of Representatives in March passed a bill to repeal the state’s red-light camera law, but the legislation fizzled in the Senate.
Heyman urged her fellow commissioners not to repeal the camera program in hopes that a system of monitoring a limited number of high-accident intersections could be implemented after the county gets through the 2016 elections. She described the cameras, which generate automatic tickets based on a car’s license plate, as a reasonable way to catch people who show a “lack of respect for moving violations when no one is there to catch them.”
Commissioner Juan C. Zapata pointed to complications from camera systems, including an increase in rear-end collisions as motorists jam on the brakes when they realize cameras are watching. He noted he was a state lawmaker in 2010 when Florida authorized cities and counties to launch red-light cameras, which produce millions in revenue for local governments.
“I don’t think the policy was governed as much by safety as it was to generate government dollars,” Zapata said. A red-light violation costs $158, with $80 going to the state, $75 to the local government and $3 to paralysis research.
A November memo from deputy mayor Russell Benford recommended against the county launching a red-light-camera program, saying recent court rulings against cities outsourcing camera analysis would force Miami-Dade’s police department to create a costly division to administer the surveillance system.
The memo said starting with just 150 cameras countywide would generate 1 million videos of suspected red-light runners in the first two years, and 180,000 violations. The report also predicted a sharp drop in tickets once motorists got used to the cameras — for the third year, only 115,000 violations were forecast, a 35 percent decline.
But with administrative expense, legal uncertainty over red-light-camera law, and other issues, the memo recommended commissioners not pursue the devices. Instead, Benford said the county was conducting a study on how to reduce red-light runners by increasing the time before yellow lights turn red and red lights turn green. “I believe this practice is a better alternative,” Benford wrote.