Popping up among the crop of political election signs along the streets of Fountain Hills these days are rather non-descript signs calling for motorists to “Honk if you Hate Red Light Cameras.”
No one seems to know where the signs came from, but the reason they were put up likely stems from a council vote in June directing staff to research the installation of a red-light enforcement camera at the intersection of Palisades and Shea boulevards. The intersection has a no right on red restriction for traffic turning westbound onto Shea from southbound Palisades.
With the speed limit on Shea, coupled with a hillcrest that somewhat impairs line of sight, the town decided a number of years ago to restrict the right turn off Palisades. It was not a particularly popular decision from the start. However, the restriction has stuck, although it has never been enforced by camera.
The council did make a change to the sign at the intersection a little over a year ago. The language was changed to “No Right on Red,” in the hope it would attract more attention from motorists.
Late last year, in response to a City of Phoenix decision to discontinue the use of cameras in traffic enforcement, Fountain Hills Mayor Ginny Dickey asked staff to begin research into the issue. Articles related to the Phoenix decision noted that Phoenix led the nation in the number of people killed by red light runners in the decade between 2008 and 2017. The number is 132. There is no indication how many of those might have been related to right turn incidents.
Traffic and pedestrian safety have been a priority for Dickey since she became mayor, spurred by a number of incidents involving pedestrians in 2018, including one incident that killed four. Red lights did not play a part in that collision, although investigators cited speed and inattentiveness when the driver actually went onto the sidewalk around traffic stopped for a red light and struck the pedestrians.
There is a traffic safety committee for the town that includes the mayor, Councilman Dennis Brown and staff including the town manager, public works director and MCSO commander. Meeting early this year the committee made the decision to recommend that the Town Council review a set of safety measures that includes the right turn red light camera at Shea and Palisades as well as a speed limit change on Palisades Blvd. and “Zero Tolerance” speed enforcement by MCSO.
“This was a gradual conversation within the committee,” Dickey said. “We discussed the right turn camera, not for speeding or red light running in the traditional sense, wondering how it would work, its effectiveness, etc. At another meeting we decided it was something we wanted to explore but would ask the full council first. Then we brought that and the other items to the meeting on June 16.
“That is the only location we are looking at.”
Town Attorney Aaron Arnson said the photo enforcement is legal.
“Photo enforcement is acceptable within city and town limits, so long as the statutory requirements in (state statute) are met,” Arnson said. “There must be warning signs a certain distance before the camera, etc., and so long as they aren’t on state highways.”
While the council voted June 16 to approve the recommendations, it made no decisions on implementing any of the proposals. Staff was told to research costs, legal issues and other criteria and to bring the proposals back for consideration. The items may be on the council agenda when it next meets in late August.
There is pretty well-organized opposition to photo enforcement of traffic laws in Arizona and across the country and in some cases those rules have not held up to court challenges.
The signs in Fountain Hills do include the identification as being paid for by “Honk if you hate red light cameras PAC.” Town staff has been trying to find out more about the PAC, and as of this writing had been unable to determine anything.
Shawn Dow, a Fountain Hills resident and political consultant, has worked a number of years on campaigns in opposition to photo enforcement of all kinds. However, he told The Times he has never heard of the “Honk if you hate red light cameras” PAC.
Dow did say he would be watching closely what direction the Town Council will be taking, and a court challenge may be an option for opponents.