Tucsonans frustrated with the city's traffic cameras may get an opportunity to ban them this fall.
Former state lawmaker John Kromko is collecting signatures to place an initiative on November's ballot that would prohibit all traffic-enforcement cameras in Tucson.
The initiative would amend the city code to require every ticket issued by the Tucson Police Department to have an actual officer witness the infraction.
To qualify for the ballot, he must collect 12,730 signatures from registered voters living within city limits by July 5.
Kromko figures there are plenty of frustrated residents among recipients of the 158,861 citations TPD has issued over the years who would be more than willing to put their names on the petition or volunteer their time.
Kromko's opposition to the cameras stems not from their use, but from how TPD has incorporated them around town.
"I don't object to having the cameras, but many are set up to trap people," Kromko said.
He believes many of the cameras are intentionally set at intersections with short-timed yellow lights and inconsistent curbs so motorists are unaware of exactly where they need to be in order to avoid triggering the cameras.
"If the city was using this for traffic safety, they'd make it safer, not trickier," he said.
The city asserts the cameras reduce accidents and make Tucsonans safer drivers.
Since the first camera was installed in January 2007, crashes at the eight intersections where the cameras are located have decreased from 200 a year to 74 in 2012.
Councilman Steve Kozachik said while the cameras need to be tweaked, they do serve a public good.
"I'd prefer to split the difference by elongating the amber, but with that in place they seem to serve a purpose," Kozachik said. "I'll keep pushing for longer amber on left-turn arrows, but I think most people will opt for fewer collisions."
Kozachik believes if the initiative winds up on the ballot, it will most likely fail since TPD will lobby against it. He believes the public would probably be swayed by the reduced accidents as justification for the cameras' continued existence.
Another benefit of the cameras is that they reduce red- light running. And fewer red-light runners translates into cheaper auto insurance rates for everybody, said Councilwoman Regina Romero.
"Arizona has high incidents of red-light running and it reflects on our car insurance payments," she said.
The cameras also free police officers for more serious law enforcement, said Mayor Jonathan Roths-child. With TPD resources stretched thin, officers need all the help they can get.
"There may be ways to improve the administration of the system," Rothschild said. "But given the positives of the program, I will not be for throwing the baby out with the bathwater."
Kromko acknowledged the city would oppose his efforts.
It would be difficult for the city to turn its back on a big moneymaker when it's staring at perennial deficits, he said. The cameras add about $680,000 a year to the city's coffers.
Nonetheless, Kromko is confident voters will get a chance to voice their opinion on the matter later this year.
Kromko is currently recruiting volunteers to join his group, Traffic Justice, to help collect signatures this weekend at the Fourth Avenue Street Fair and beyond.
For more information, visit www.tucsontrafficjustice.com.
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Kromko's activist history
John Kromko is no stranger to the initiative process. The former state legislator has spearheaded or been a part of more than a dozen initiatives, referenda or recalls at local and state levels dating to the late 1970s. Some of his key measures:
• Blocking Tucson from banning topless dancing.
• Neighborhood Protection Amendment prohibiting freeway interchanges without voter approval.
• Requiring Tucson Water to recharge CAP water.
• Preventing Tucson Water from serving treated sewer water to customers. It failed at the ballot.
• Recalled county assessor Alan Lang.
• Initiative drive led to legislative repeal of state sales tax on food sold in grocery stores.
• Rollback auto insurance rates. It failed at the ballot.
• Instituted the motor-voter initiative.
• Passed the Arizona Clean Water rules that restricted toxins in drinking water.
• Petition drive pressured Legislature to pass state health-care program, Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS).
• Overturned a law prohibiting hunting on reservations.
Contact reporter Darren DaRonco at 573-4243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @DarrenDaRonco.