Hick's Traffic-Light-Cam and Photo-Radar Bill Vetoes Makes Critics See Red

When Governor John Hickenlooper vetoed legislation pertaining to the elimination of red-light traffic cameras and photo-radar traffic enforcement, he did so knowing that plenty of people supported the measures and have been fighting for their passage for years.

That's clear from his statement about the vetoes and the letters he sent in connection with them.

The latter documents, on view below, offer Hickenlooper's own proposal for legislation in the future — suggestions that would limit (maybe) the use of such tools without eliminating them and restrict the ways the monies generated by them can be used.

We've been covering this issue since at least 2008, when I shared my own red-light ticket story; I was fined $75 for stopping slightly over the white line at an intersection near Westword's offices. (No red light was run.)

Three years later, we wrote about a study suggesting that the vast majority of such tickets were targeting people turning right on red. The implication: The cameras were set to generate revenue from people engaging in typical, non-problematic traffic behavior as opposed to focusing on safety.

By 2012, some members of Denver City Council were publicly calling for the program to be shut down or modified in a significant way — and Senator Scott Renfro introduced legislation at the general assembly to ban red-light cameras entirely.

Renfro's effort fell short, and a similar bill proposed in 2014 was subsequently transformed into a study, as opposed to flat-out prohibition of the technology.

This year, however, two measures passed with bipartisan support: SB 15-276, entitled “Concerning the Elimination of the Use of Automated Vehicle Identification Systems for Traffic Law Enforcement," and HB 15-1098, “Concerning the Elimination of the Use of Automated Surveillance Camera Vehicle Identification Systems for Traffic Enforcement.” They called for banning the gear unless a local election was held and voters approved its use.

Nonetheless, Hickenlooper nixed both of the bills within one minute of each other in the afternoon of June 3.

Why? In a statement, he's quoted as saying, "Speeding and disregard for traffic signals are a danger for all drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians. These actions have very real, at times fatal, consequences. While not always popular, when used correctly, radar and red light cameras make roads safer. Unfortunately, these bills go too far.

"To that end," the statement continues, "we encourage the General Assembly to enact legislation in 2016 that limits photo radar and red light cameras to only the following locations: (1) school zones; (2) construction and roadway work zones; and (3) areas with disproportionately high traffic and pedestrian accidents, injuries, and fatalities. Secondly, legislation should require that fine revenue be used solely for traffic safety improvements and enforcement, rather than general operating funds or non-transportation purposes.”

The language in Hickenlooper's remarks is vague — particularly the focus on "areas with disproportionately high traffic and pedestrian accidents, injuries and fatalities." If individual municipalities are given discretion in determining what that means, there's a good chance every intersection where cameras are currently installed will continue to qualify. And communities are likely to still hunger for the extra bucks even if they're required to use them for more narrowly tailored purposes.

Among those unhappy with Hickenlooper's decision are the folks at the conservative Colorado Peak Politics blog. A post headlined "Hickenlooper Gives Bipartisanship the Finger (Again)" quotes Representative Kevin Van Winkle, a bill sponsor: "I am very disappointed Governor Hickenlooper chose revenue over rights and vetoed two broadly supported, bipartisan measures to limit the use of traffic cameras in Colorado. Giving voters a voice regarding the use of traffic cameras was a fair compromise but sadly Governor Hickenlooper chose to reject this option and ignore Coloradans’ concerns.”

Look below to see Hickenlooper's two veto letters.

John Hickenlooper Veto Letter SB 15-276

John Hickenlooper Veto Letter HB 15-1098

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts