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Traffic cameras could return to Albuquerque

Part of Vision Zero’s automated traffic camera approach includes signs displaying the names and faces of people killed by speeding vehicles. (Rick Nathanson/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

In an attempt to put the brakes on speeding and racing on Albuquerque streets, city officials are hoping to bring back automated traffic cameras, Mayor Tim Keller said during a Tuesday news conference.

Unlike the widely disliked red light camera program the city used some years ago and then discontinued, a proposed new system would be mobile and target only speeding vehicles – although not low-level speeders going a few miles over the limit.

Violators would receive citations that are civil, rather than criminal, and they would be handled administratively, “basically like parking tickets,” Keller said.

Joseph Viers, the Albuquerque police commander for traffic and motor units, said, “Automated enforcement can work to cut down on dangerous speeding, and officers do not have to be involved in that process directly,” freeing their time to focus on other police work, particularly violent crime.

Citations would be reviewed before being mailed, and motorists who receive citations would have access to an appeal process. People who cannot afford fines would be offered alternatives, such as community service. In the previous system, tickets went to the registered vehicle owner.

Traffic stops, as reported by law enforcement agencies around the country, “have the highest incidence for sometimes tragic confrontations between offices and civilians,” Viers said.

Jazmin Irazoqui-Ruiz, managing city attorney for policy, said it is important the city is “making sure that we aren’t criminalizing our community, making sure that this is solely a civil citation process … and offering alternative ways of paying for these citations so that it doesn’t result in a bench warrant.”

Of course, none of this will occur unless the Albuquerque City Council adopts an ordinance to create the system and provide for traffic penalties under the city’s civil code, Keller acknowledged.

The new approach to dealing with speeders came out of the Vision Zero Action Plan, a collaboration among city departments and agencies and community partners, which formed a task force to study the problem of speeding and make recommendations for creating safer streets.

Among those attending the news conference Tuesday were City Councilors Brook Bassan, Klarissa Peña and Lan Sena, who sit on the Vision Zero task force and who will propose the ordinance before the July recess, they said. If the City Council approves the proposal, a request for proposals from companies that offer traffic camera technology will be issued soon, although an exact timeline was unclear.

The site of the news conference, Morningside Park, borders Lead Avenue. Lead has been identified as one of the streets where excessive speeding and vehicle racing occurs, “but there are literally dozens” of such problem areas around the city, Keller said.

Viers said one-third of all fatal crashes in Albuquerque involve excessive speed.

“In 2019, there were 97 fatalities, and that’s the highest it’s been over the past decade,” he said. Further, pedestrian deaths have increased four times since 2010, he said.

A Journal analysis conducted last year found that nearly one in five fatal pedestrian crashes in Albuquerque during 2019 occurred in the dimly lighted and highly congested portion of East Central between San Pedro and Eubank.

Unsafe streets are a problem not just in Albuquerque. The Governors Highway Safety Association report has ranked New Mexico as having the highest pedestrian fatalities per capita for five years in a row.

Public antipathy for automated traffic camera technology was apparent in Rio Rancho, which discontinued the use of red light cameras but continues using automated speed van cameras. Three of those vans were torched in the past few years. In addition, vandals have broken out the windows of other speed vans or have egged them.

Redflex Traffic Systems, the Arizona-based company that operates the automated speed cameras in Rio Rancho, is the same company that provided Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Las Cruces with speed van and/or red light camera technology.

In 2011, Albuquerque discontinued its association with Redflex and its camera system. Santa Fe and Las Cruces discontinued using them in 2014, but Santa Fe revisited the concept of restarting a program earlier this year.

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