A new bill in the Oregon Legislature would remove a major barrier to the use of automated photo radar cameras.
Current Oregon law requires that every citation issued by a fixed speed camera must be reviewed by a sworn police officer. While well-intentioned, this statute has led to delays in citation processing, higher personnel costs to do the work — and most unfortunately — a bureaucratic reluctance to install new cameras.
In Portland for example, despite clear benefits of fixed speed safety cameras, they are installed in only four locations. That’s just eight cameras in operation since being given the authority to use them in 2015. One big problem is our procurement process, but the other is strictly due to police personnel.
An August 2019 story in The Willamette Week titled, Speed Cameras Save Lives. So Why Does Portland Have Only Eight of Them?, explained the police staffing bottleneck:
One stumbling block is a requirement included in the original legislation that a sworn police officer review all film from the cameras and sign each citation issued… Lourenco, the traffic division captain, says the Police Bureau never thought that was a good idea. “PPB didn’t want to partner in the project,” she says. But it had no choice… Today, Lourenco says, it has the full-time equivalent of 12—and one of them spends a lot of time looking at film. That’s a job other cities, such as Denver, employ civilians to do. Portland could too, if lawmakers allowed it. “PBOT issues parking tickets and they have no police power,” Lourenco adds.
House Bill 3357 could change that. Introduced in early March by Representative Jeff Reardon (D-Happy Valley) the bill would amend Oregon Revised Statute 810.436 (1) (f). That section currently states a “police officer” must review photographs sent in by the cameras. HB 3357 would add, “A police officer or a duly authorized traffic enforcement agent of a law enforcement agency.”
This is the legislative effort PBOT Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty alluded to in our interview with her last month.
The bill is currently in the Joint Transportation Committee and was just scheduled for a public hearing on Thursday, March 18th. Stay tuned.
UPDATE, 3/15: The Willamette Week reports that the Portland Police Association (the union that represents PPB officers) opposes this bill.
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Well the PPB has made this a very clear AND easy choice now. Though in addition to the legislative update…I would plainly recommend the CoP and advocates instead use speed cameras as a way to issue warnings (not citations) to the vehicle owner (and the vehicle record / insurance) about how their property is being used on public streets vs. issuing citation fines for behavior change. This initial phase would be more education focused and avoid some of the angst. Plus the data would help in measuring the state of [lack of] safety along targeted corridors. (Oh my god, there has to be more than 8 cameras deployed in 4 intersections.)
I think you’re going to need some pain (a monetary fine) to make them work. Nobody will care if you just get a warning. Plus you got to pay for the cameras somehow.
Except that the pain will be inequitably distributed. Folks who can afford it will simply pay the fine and keep driving dangerously. And even if you up the ante to non-monetary fines like suspension of drivers’ license (say after a certain number of tickets) there will be people who will have only a minor inconvenience as they switch to Uber/Lyft, vs. people who will literally lose their jobs because they can’t afford those services and transit doesn’t serve lots of areas.
Warnings and education make sense. Maybe public shaming campaigns for people who continue to get them over and over.
That’s why I vote for Jeff. #$@^% yeah!
Thanks for covering this. Fingers crossed that the legislature carries this forward.
So easy when you’re politicians are not in the pocket of the police union.
In my opinion many local politicians are more supportive of misguided progressive actions (cutting PPB budget without a plan for a wise use of those funds) then they are supportive of the police. We all need to work to improve local law enforcement (not just criticize) in order to make our community safer and more livable.
PS Jonathan you’ll probably censor this because it doesn’t match your narrative. That’s okay.
The folks most opposed to improving local law enforcement are the Portland Police Association and PPB.
PPA did their best to successfully make sure the PS3 could do almost nothing and then go and whine about how they are under-budgeted and under-staffed.
Any “community group” that the police are part of will have no credibility in the community. You can’t just drive in from the Couve or OC everyday, knock heads and abuse people, and then expect to be part of a community conversation.
I don’t think attitudes like you are expressing are going to help improve community safety, reduce traffic violence or make our city more livable. Unfortunately, there will always be a need for law enforcement. It’s just human nature for some to not follow the Golden Rule. Are the police perfect? Far from it. They are humans and are fallible just like the rest of us. Do they need to improve? Absolutely. Does the community need to partner with them so the can provide the law enforcement that we want and need? Absolutely.
Yes! This is a seriously common sense measure. PBOT would be far better suited to review citations than the PPB. A huge issue with police in this country is the fact that we use them as an umbrella agency for almost everything when they are really only suitable for violent crime.
The difficulty is that cameras inspire policing for profit. Example being how red light cameras have been proven to reduce yellow light duration to unsafe levels. Are we sure traffic cameras are a good thing?
Yes. The evidence that they significantly reduce injuries and crashes is overwhelming. Here is another link on NYC’s speed camera program. The typical criticisms in news are: bias in evaluation and using cameras to augment budgets. Can you provide evidence to support your claim?
Yes. And equally sure corruption is a bad thing.
It is a legitimate concern as seen in the Jarlstrom case. ODOT is doing a pool study to figure that out, my hope is that an additional buffer of x seconds is added for enforcement. The times that are proven safe by research are different than those required to cover every turning edge case.
“The times that are proven safe by research are different than those required to cover every turning edge case.”
Can you link to this or be more specific?
Skip to the TL:DR if you don’t like the weeds.
So first off as a transportation engineer I think we as a profession need to be clearer about the fact that we are the arbiters for society in the balance of speed and safety on our streets. You have to choose between the two often and its not always 1:1. Absolute safety is very slow, absolute speed is very dangerous. Given most of the inputs are human factors related and therefore a rough bell curve engineers must target some level of acceptable safety. This bears out in many things like yellow and red clearance interval times and assumed walking speeds.
As an example, the walking time of 3.5 ft/s selected for the 2009 MUTCD update for flashing don’t walk clearance times is only enough time for 85% of the population to cross. The slowest 15% of users including those with canes need to use the walk interval plus the flashing don’t walk interval to clear the intersection at their pace. https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.376.4105&rep=rep1&type=pdf
So back to yellow clearance intervals the point of this interval is to allow you to stop before entering the intersection. The point of the red clearance interval is to help you clear the intersection safely once you’re in it.
Before 2012 there is no clear federal guidance on yellow and red clearance intervals other than that they should be between 3 and 6 seconds. 2012 NCHRP 731 is published and uses a kinematic equation, which had been in use by various jurisdictions for a while, and promises safety benefits. Like most other things in transportation engineering this policy didn’t consider every edge case. https://www.nap.edu/catalog/22700/guidelines-for-timing-yellow-and-all-red-intervals-at-signalized-intersections.
Beaverton Oregon Mats Jarlstrom challenges the 55 year old Kinematic equation over a red light enforcement ticket saying, among other things, that the assumption that speed is constant is incorrect for turning movements. In 2020, Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) adopts his new kinematic equation to cover the left turning case but not the right turning case as more research is needed. Note all of this turning information is irrelevant to Oregon because it has a restrictive yellow law, you should stop when you see a yellow light. Therefore the edge case of slowing then completing your turn as described by Jarlstrom’s extended equation is moot. https://www.ite.org/pub/?id=219D4959-ECEE-FB90-CE1D-05D2C8442F33
TL:DR – Yellow and Red Clearance times don’t cover every edge case just like walk times don’t cover every edge case because there is a balance of safety and speed/efficiency. Absolute speed comes at a high safety cost and absolute safety comes at a speed/efficiency cost. ITE has this recommendation:
“The Recommended Practice does not cover enforcement actions to address red light running, but cautions that zero tolerance enforcement is inappropriate due to the wide variety of factors and assumptions that are involved in calculating and implementing yellow change intervals.”
Very interesting. The “fact that we are the arbiters for society in the balance of speed and safety on our streets” is a fantastic statement that engineers must recognize and promote. Thanks. Few somewhat tangential points so I’ll also preface with TL:DR as well and not link to papers as I assume you’re likely already aware.
1) I understand it is a messy, difficult, and sometimes an impractical undertaking to model human behaviors for meaningful data (having worked in behavioral research). The limited modeling I have seen by engineers nearly always assumes perfect driving behavior. The problem is: illegal parking, speeding, frequent U turns and abrupt turning behaviors, for example, are the norm and quite commonplace on streets, not the outlier. This behavior is looked at by engineers as problems with enforcement, not design. Yet, safe design can reduce these significantly. For example, PBoT redesigned Foster Road and Hawthorne according to models they created. But the data for models is often not released, and the end effect, while a 4:3 and a slight improvement, is a universe removed from safe.
2) The oft-used “balance between safety and speed/capacity” is superficially true in abstract and very specific cases (such as your traffic light example). It often serves to placate engineers and safety advocates alike, but in practice becomes a misguided and false ideology. In the example above Foster and Hawthorne would have a significant increase in people on bikes given the PBL option as well as a significant increase in safety for peds/cyclists. The effect on car speed and capacity would have been negligible. So euphemisms like “flow”, “equity”, and “transit delay” are often used to persuade people that retaining car capacity and parking is the sensible decision. In most cases PBoT will preclude safe design elements given ANY parking or traffic count. So it’s very often clear that this balance is nonexistent, and the actual decisions are political, not based on balancing capacity and safety.
3) One more related note: We know that politicians and DOT administration decide constraints on engineers. It is a difficult position to be put into as often enough very small changes to design can have significant safety implications. I appreciate the work of traffic engineers, but I am also disappointed in their reticence to be advocates for their work. Research on safe street design is incredibly robust (when you include international papers). If 20% of cars exploded for no reason, the engineer and company would be rightly liable. Yet, that is the current situation in the US today with street design. We know what works, we simply dupe ourselves into thinking it’s not possible here due to exceptionalism, or it’s a “balance.”
Apologies for the longwinded response. Thanks for the clarification on traffic cams. Quite interesting.
Imagine not running a red light and slowing down for a yellow.
Would someone explain to me why having PBOT personnel review “every citation issued by a fixed speed camera” would be cheaper than by the police? Aren’t PBOT staff generally paid more than police officers? And less qualified to do that job?
Wouldn’t just be simpler to hire Multnomah County court staff to do that job? Since they get half the fines anyway, why not hire them to do everything?
Sworn PPB officers are extremely well-paid. So having PBOT employees performing this work is likely less expensive.
I question why you believe PBOT employees are less qualified for this work? PPB has a long and continuous history of deep-rooted racism and violence. Just some examples include leaking false information about the city’s first Black commissioner to right wing trolls, documented stalling at a downtown Starbucks to slow down 911 response as a form of political retribution, and according to a recent report, arresting Black Portlanders at a rate over 4x that of white people.
Based on their history, I find PPB to be extremely unqualified to do this work. PBOT’s remit is to get people and things safely from one place to another, so this duty would seem to fit squarely in their wheelhouse. Though I agree that court staff could also be trained to do it as well.
One key element beyond straight is the retirement benefits. Police get a bigger retirement multiplier (1.8% vs. 1.5% and can retire after 25 yrs vs. 30 yrs).
Police get much more
Police also often rack up a lot more overtime, which also comes back to haunt us in retirement, as retirement includes average salary of top three earning years, including some overtime.
Hopefully the police officer position that is required to look at film can be redirected to public safety and crime prevention. BRING BACK the Bike Theft Task Force!!!!!
“duly authorized traffic enforcement agent of a law enforcement agency”
If this position does not already exist, it may be the next stumbling block.
What are “bureaucratic reluctance” and “procurement process”?
Now take the decision out of the hands of PPB to use them. PBOT should be in charge of traffic safety (as bad as they are)
They still need to change the laws so that the registered owner gets the ticket from camera enforcement or the registered owner has to explain exactly who was driving the car if they were not. If you allow someone else to borrow/drive your car you should be responsible for any tickets or be able identify the person you allowed to drive your car. A car can cause a lot damage or injury so the owner must be held responsible.
Next time you take a ride around Portland see how many cars don’t even have license plates. It’s amazing how many don’t. Hard to identity a vehicle without plates. PBOT has stopped responding to reports of no plate vehicles due to COVID. Not a helpful way to get to Vision Zero if you can drive around in a car that can’t be identified.
Out here in East Portland, there’s soooo many cars with dealer plates/temp plates (usually expired)/real plates with expired reg, or blatantly no plates at all all. I don’t understand how these people continue to drive. I see it all the time out my front window, the typical coffee can or hole in the muffler, buuurrrrpppp, look out my window and see a guy in a junked car going way faster than 20 and with no plates! Good luck holding these people accountable. It‘ll be the soccer dad in the van running late to pick his kids up that gets dinged for five over!
Yeah, Oregon’s approach to temporary plates seems crazy to me. So often, even if they are displayed “properly” they are not visible due to the tint or tilt of the back window. I think that’s a big contributor to the pervasive culture of driving without plates here.
Everywhere else I’ve lived have had temporary plates that are a durable plastic and go on where the regular plates go. I don’t understand why we don’t have that here. Seems like any increased costs could be passed onto the users in the form of higher plate fees.
I think the biggest resistance to this is that if this was done, it would remove protection from the ruling class corporations and organizations, for example “City That Works” E plate vehicles turning on “No right on red”. See my other comment about how the city purposely looks the other way on construction company related street violations.
Corporations do not want a law that requires their employees to be cited for employment related violations, because it causes the corporate insurance expenses to go up, as well as having to pay the fines.
I’m not a huge fan of these citation to taxation measure, however allowing non-registered owners off the hook is not fair and absolutely unreasonable for vehicles registered in the name of LLC and organizations.
Furthermore, I understand that employment law violation is particularly prevalent in the construction and landscaping industry. Therefore, when a vehicle registered in the name of a construction company is caught or it is stated that “person works for me” this should trigger an investigation into employee misclassification violation on the owner too.
So, if we are going to install more speed cameras, I humbly ask that speed limits are set that are appropriate for the design of the roadway and not to generate money from speeding tickets.
I used to work in municipal government(not Portland) and watched city councils purposely set speed limits for such a reason.
Don’t get me wrong, Im all in favor of holding drivers responsible for reckless behavior and think cameras are needed. I just don’t want them to be abused either
What does “appropriate for the design of the roadway” mean to you? If it’s a comprehensive view of the speed that’s appropriate for all users–including people biking, walking along it or crossing it, that’s one thing. If it means “the speed drivers think they can safely drive” that’s another.
A lot of streets in Portland are designed for vehicles to travel much faster than the lower speeds that work better for other users besides drivers. In those cases, which are so common, setting speeds lower than how many people (perhaps not you) would define “appropriate for the design of the roadway” doesn’t mean they’re being set to generate money from speeding tickets.
Agreed qqq. Traditionally the 85th percentile is used, which essentially makes it a cultural decision, when virtually little to no consequences for speeding exist, and safety is rarely considered. That is why we changed the law so PBoT can request to reduce speed for specific streets.
So Jeff I think your argument is one of the more common criticisms of speed cameras, but is also the outlier in practice. The argument that a municipality “caught” a person who sped is a cultural problem, and rarely a design problem. In Portland and other cities where other modes are common, PBoT/ODoT should give close consideration to the probable effect of speed on injury/death, which has a lot of research behind it. In a place like 82nd, for example, having a 35mph speed limit is essentially guaranteeing pedestrian death.
So “appropriate” can be a euphemism for convenience or safety, depending on street design priorities. Remember, from a behaviorist perspective, it would be incredibly easy and cheap to virtually eliminate unsafe driving. Placing ubiquitous speed camera boxes on most roads with a modicum of actual, functional speed cameras, and shuffling these around periodically, would create driver patterns of behavior of constant adherence to speed limits.
Out near my house outer Holgate is built to go fast. From 92nd to 122nd there’s two traffic lights, 104th and 112th, and both are green for Holgate traffic more often than not. If headed east on Holgate from 92nd as soon as you cross 205 the street gets very wide and is straight as can be for almost a mile and a half before 122nd. Increasingly in the last year it seems like it’s become a late night drag strip (just talking anecdotally here, based on what we hear at night when watching a show or in bed reading). Holgate needs speed cameras and the speed limit needs to be set to a safe speed, not what the road can handle. Holgate is set at 30 right now (I’d be stoked on 25), and that’s often ignored. If someone has just gotta go faster then I’m cool with a robot camera giving them a ticket. If that raises a bunch of money from speeding tickets, so be it. We live in a city, you gotta share the road safely and legally.
But isn’t it possible the PBOT employee may have a racial bias?
Bias is arguably present in any part of the population including minority groups. However, a random PBOT employee will at least not be a part of our police culture. They are more likely to live in the city limits. They are more likely to walk, ride a bike or transit to work.
Great points X. It is unfortunate that Police members often live outside communities they serve. This has a host of implications for enforcement. For example, in NYC, less than half (49.2%) of NYPD officers live outside the city. Thus it has an enormous economic effect: their paychecks come from the city, and taxes/spending affect areas outside the city.
The difference in Portland is even starker. Just 18% of cops live inside the city.
In talking to a civil rights attorney, the benefit of camera tickets is we actually have good data. We have a set of photos that are reviewable for racial bias. As in, we could look at the data on how many photos are of what perceived races, and the % of those that are given what sort of tickets. Hence can set it up nicely for a bias lawsuit should it be warranted.
City of Portland PBOT is nationally known for its hazing culture. It even made it into the Associated Press. https://apnews.com/article/431cb0192d3f4c9684c0df1d2591e01d
I suspect the only motivation is taxation by citation on the regular class people to cover the enormous fixed government expenses in the COVID revenue loss plight.
Presently, police involvement is unnecessary to issue citations for unauthorized/illegal street and parking space closures. Such as claiming parking spaces and sometimes bike lanes to store dumpsters, equipment and material without permit or using it beyond what’s allowed by permit parameters. This is perpetrated rather frequently by wealthy construction companies for real estate developers. This is all within the authority of PBOT just like parking violations. The city is very reluctant to cite construction companies for illegal street and parking takeover associated with projects related to the ruling class or summarily remove their equipment illegally stored on the street. Illegal street closure and object storage pose safety concerns too and there’s no excuse for these behaviors perpetrated by those with a ton of money to be given leniency.
If you ride along Interstate Ave, you’ll find a dumpster slightly encroaching into the bike lane for many months for a construction project related to a monied real estate developer project. I doubt the city issued a permit for dumpster partially in the bike lane? Why are they not tackling something like this? This dumpster means bikes would slightly maneuver around it causing them to have to inch up closer to vehicular traffic.
I mean, this is basically completely left up to the driver, right? You are saying that it is the city taxing people for an individual making the choice to exceed the speed limit? That doesn’t sound like a tax, it sounds like someone not respecting the laws and getting fined.
Putting in cameras and giving out more tickets can increase the idea that people will be held accountable and that people can’t just do what they want – i.e. it will hopefully change the culture of speeding and driving in Portland. Do you genuinely feel that speeding isn’t an issue in Portland? If not, we live in very different Portlands.
I don’t love the whataboutism from your response, but the answer to that probably lies in the fact that a) people haven’t complained about it and b) the risk associated is smaller than other things, e.g. a car traveling at a higher rate of speed than it should be. How many people are dying because of this?
To bring it back to the actual issue – there is a clear link to speed and fatalities – https://aaafoundation.org/impact-speed-pedestrians-risk-severe-injury-death/#:~:text=The%20average%20risk%20of%20death,Risks%20vary%20significantly%20by%20age. Even fixing the speed issue would decrease the impact these have on peds/cyclists.
I suggest you start reporting the dumpsters/construction issues and get other people to, as well. Perhaps something would be done. We can fine both speeding drivers and construction companies that aren’t getting permits – I am fine with both of those things and we shouldn’t have to choose between a false dichotomy.
No, from experience, all the city does is give the contractor a call and some will comply, some won’t. Almost always, they call them and give them a chance to resolve it, even contractors that have a habit of repeatedly violating it. PBOT treats monied construction companies like VIPs and give them every chance to avoid fines. The difference in protocol screams cronyism. If you or I ignore parking regulations, do we have the option to get a unlimited number of “please move your car” reminder prior to citations? Absolutely not.
It’s no secret that traffic and parking citations are means of creating revenue for the city and in the case of PBOT they avoid upsetting their cronies in the real estate development industry.
This isn’t whataboutism. It is suggesting not some minor, but very prevalent issues that are actively being evaded by PBOT due to cronyism, and something that can be immediately handled without any legislative change.
The dumpster thing was reported. The City of Portland Bureau of Transportation’s trademark MO is to deprioritize and defer construction complaints so far down the line so that construction gets done before inspector can even get to it or respond that there’s not enough resource to get to it. Multi-millionaire construction companies like the one with Big red A logo on the crane or the orange and black H logo violating these things is like a millionaire shoplifting from a neighborhood gas station. It would be unfair to compare against some homeless stealing food from Walmart. These are extremely wealthy corporations that are skirting permit to increase their profit margin.
What does any of that have to do with speed cameras?
Oh look, guess who opposes this common sense reform that is statistically proven to increase public safety….it’s the police unons!
Let’s hear that line again about how they just want to help our community /s
Well if the PPB union opposes it, that’s a good enough reason for me to support it.
I used to live in Australia, where state and territory governments have been using speed/red light cameras for decades. The way it works is that if a motor vehicle is photographed speeding or running red light, a citation is issued to the registered owner of the vehicle. At this point the registered owner can pay the fine and lose points on their license, identify the driver to the DMV (which will then send the citation to the driver, along with a letter stating “you were identified as the driver”), or dispute the citation including in court. If the vehicle is registered to a corporate entity, the entity can either identify the driver, or pay a fine that is triple the fine that the individual would pay.
Nobody in Australia likes traffic enforcement cameras, but they do increase enforcement without tying up police resources. As far as I know, civil servants are the ones looking at the photographs. Motoring lobbyists are always trying to water down enforcement by camera, however, state government budgets usually pay the price for road carnage, so state governments are less than enthusiastic about watering down enforcement.
State/county/municipal employees are perfectly capable of being trained to properly identify the necessary information for issuing a citation, and can be properly authorized to do so.
I am opposed to contracting enforcement to private sector companies that have a profit motive.
I think one of the pillars of American Exceptionalism is that you never discuss or even acknowledge that alternative policies have been tried and have succeeded in other countries. When someone points out that uncomfortable fact, you dismiss it as an effect of being a “smaller country” or “different society.”
But having myself lived in a large Australian city full of autos driven by people participating in a modern economy, I can confirm that traffic cameras work. They have saved countless lives and made money in the process! And if Oregonians are willing to examine the Australian experience, they will realize that there is no reasonable basis for debate. Nor is there any reasonable basis for requiring review by a police officer or for allowing private parties to profit from the process.
But don’t bet on the cowardly politicians in Salem standing up to the police or motorist lobbies any time soon. And that includes the ruling Democrats.
One perspective that I don’t see mentioned here is that switching oversight to PBOT could provide them with a wealth of data about places where road infrastructure changes will lead to safer driving. For instance, PBOT could place a camera at a location where past vehicular negligence/assaults have occurred, and observe behavior. Then they could install temporary/popup changes to test out possible solutions.
Whether PBOT would do this, of course, is a different matter.
But I think it’s important to remember that it’s not just about issuing citations/warnings. This could support safer streets initiatives too.
You might think that with their reduction in budget, and message from them that this reduces what they have time to do, plus all that pesky (lucrative) overtime that comes from being short-staffed, they’d welcome a reduced in work load.
A contrarian view – perhaps it would be better for us all to keep police officers tied-up doing this menial ticket review instead of having PBOT employees spend their time doing the work. just a thought. personally, i’m more interested in having PBOT doing its job unencumbered than PPB doing their thing.
Even if this passes, it’s pretty clear that the program of non-sworn personnel reviewing citations will never come to pass, at least in Portland. The police union will use it as a bargaining issue – something like, we’ll give you this if you give each officer 1000 hours of overtime. Anything to make it uneconomic for the city. Disgusting. Time to break the union and start over.