Portland Wants to Change State Law So the City Can Catch Speeders with Unmanned Radar and Cameras

City transportation officials may have found a new means to raise millions of dollars: installing unmanned radar and cameras to catch speeders in school zones and on roads with lots of car crashes.

The problem is, the cameras are illegal in Oregon.

WW first reported in Wednesday's Murmurs that Rep. Jeff Reardon (D-Happy Valley) plans to draft a bill to make unmanned photo radar legal. State law currently allows 10 cities, including Portland, to use photo radar vans, but a police officer must be inside.

"Currently, Portland does not have the authority to enforce speed limits via fixed photo radar, a tool proven to slow down drivers," Reardon's office wrote in a Sept. 19 legislative draft request, a document that asks state officials to explore language for a potential bill.

"Our suggested solution," the document continues, "is to authorize fixed location photo radar to enforce the speed limit in school zones, safe routes to schools zones, and high crash corridors."

Portland Bureau of Transportation director Leah Treat tells WW the goal of the cameras is to slow down drivers.

"We need new tools if we're going to reduce crashes, which we know disproportionately impact poor and minority communities," Treat says. "I have lived and worked in cities that have seen results: Chicago had a 60 percent speed reduction around schools and parks in the first year of using cameras and Washington D.C. had a 20 percent reduction in speed citywide."

Reardon's legislative aide, Anne Buzzini, says the lawmaker is motivated by walking deaths in East Portland.

"Rep. Reardon's district includes Southeast 122nd Avenue, which is a high-crash corridor," Buzzini tells WW. "Rep. Reardon has been working on this pedestrian safety issue, and this seems like the logical next step."

But other cities have also seen big paydays from fixed photo radar. Seattle over the next two years is raising $14.8 million from $189-a-violation fines using unmanned speed cameras. Officials there announced last fall they would dedicate the new money to safety projects near schools.

Portland's push for legislation comes as Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Steve Novick are still backing a street fee to raise money for road maintenance. Money from radar cameras could go to safety projects, such as sidewalks and signals, and offset the costs of maintenance work promoted by Hales and Novick.

Transportation bureau spokesman Dylan Rivera tells WW new money from fines could "supplement" the street fee. But he says slowing drivers is the goal of changing the law, not new revenue. He says new money from citations could dip as drivers start reducing their speed.

"We want safer streets," Rivera says.