A pair of bills under consideration in Salem would allow more than two dozen cities across Oregon to cite lead-foot motorists using cameras — and remove the requirement that someone with a badge and gun write the speeding ticket.
The proposals by Rep. Jeff Reardon, D-Happy Valley, would permit fixed photo radar enforcement — commonly called speed cameras — in all major Oregon cities and their suburbs, and would end the requirement that these citations be reviewed by a sworn police officer.
It also was acknowledges that Portland's eight speed safety cameras — approved in 2015 legislation as a pilot program that applied only to the Rose City — aren't going anywhere, by removing the 2024 sunset date.
"The greater than expected success of this program," said Reardon during a Joint Transportation Committee hearing March 18, "I see every time I drive down 122nd Avenue past one of the installations."
Fixed photo cameras have flashing warning signs, work 24 hours a day without on-site oversight, don't monitor red light runners and avoid the potential for racial bias when tickets are written by humans, the lawmaker added.
If House Bill 2530 is passed into law, the cameras would be allowed, though not required, in roughly 11 cities with a population over 50,000, as well as those cities encompassed by one of Oregon's eight metropolitan planning organizations, such as the Portland area suburbs.
Cameras would only be allowed in areas designated as "urban high-crash corridors" — essentially anywhere designated a safety risk by the Oregon Department of Transportation or the local government — or in school zones, Reardon added.
Slightly more controversial is Reardon's proposal to allow trained and "duly authorized traffic enforcement agents" to review the photos taken by the speed cameras before issuing the mailed traffic ticket, an idea not supported by the Oregon Coalition of Police and Sheriffs unions, as Willamette Week recently reported.
"The police are so well qualified in so many areas, and that skill set is way beyond what is needed to review a photograph," Reardon said. "It's not like we have a lack of work for the police to do — and we have unfilled positions in the Portland area."
Officials from the Portland Bureau of Transportation spoke in favor of both bills, saying crashes dropped by a third in areas where speed cameras have been operational for two years, overall speeding dropped by 71%, top-line speeders driving more than 10 mph over the limit dropped 94%, and 75% of residents support the camera program.
"This is a great example of how, thinking creatively, we can make our streets safer for everyone, without relying on police for enforcement," said PBOT Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty.
PBOT believes the cameras could be installed in at least 30 crash corridors within city limits. Speed cameras only activate for motorists traveling 11 miles above the speed limit or more, officials said at the hearing.
Andrea Hamberg, interim environmental health director for Multnomah County, noted in written testimony that almost 80 people died in traffic crashes countywide last year, with the rate of fatalities in outer Portland and East Multnomah County double that of inner neighborhoods.
Happy Valley City Manager Jason Tuck said that Sunnyside Road, the city's most traveled arterial, averages 91 crashes a year, adding that the city would consider installing speed cameras there if allowed. "The potential loss of life or risk of life-changing injuries as a result of traffic crashes cannot be understated," he said.
Follow me on Twitter
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.