Shutters closed on red light cameras


Attention drawn to “red light cameras” has a broadened focus in Dallas. Some “Big D” traffic signals–designed to be effective for 25 years–have been in service since 1940, with almost all in use since 1980. If tell-tale cameras had been that old, there’d have been black-hooded photographers straddling elevated supports trying to apply matches to magnesium at precisely the right moment to provide lighting for incriminating photos of lawbreakers. Governor Greg Abbott closed the shutter on such traffic surveillance with one stroke of the pen recently. Now, arguments may be underway far and wide concerning payment, since municipalities may impose what might be called “Kodak fines” ‘tween now and the law’s effective date September 1. In many places, all outstanding fines for these infractions–however long overdue–have been forgiven.

Actually, Dallas deserves our sympathy. Leaders tried to set aside 2013 monies to buy new traffic signals, but pleas were dwarfed by desperate financial needs to prop up the police and fire pension system. Signals don’t come cheap–the city’s last purchase of 63 traffic lights cost more than $18 million. Let’s put that in perspective. The recent storm that uprooted trees and left much of north Dallas in the dark knocked out more than 600 traffic signals, about half of the city’s total lighted intersections.

Like most cities, Dallas officials have reasons to have permanently-furrowed brows. So much to do, so little time. They can’t compete with Mother Nature, of course, which unleashed winds that wiped out electric service to more than 350,000 customers, many of whom were without electricity for several days. And the city won’t be able to help the poor guy who said he didn’t mind losing a bevy of frozen food as much as he did the spoilage of a single Whataburger. He bought it “before them ‘unTexan Chicagoans’ became majority owners of the chain, and changed the recipe.” He froze it in the wrapper, hopeful of its becoming a collector’s item. ***** Life is far less complicated in smaller places – Ozona, for example. For decades, the West Texas community of some 3,000 souls made it fine with a single traffic light. It sat atop a concrete pole at the major intersection. (Ozona has added three more lights.) An even smaller community had a single intersection with four-way stop signs. A motorist failed to come to a complete stop, explaining to the sheriff that he “just oozed through it.” “S-T-O-P don’t spell ‘ooze’,” the lawman responded.

In still another burg, a woman called the fire department, begging firemen to come quickly. Asked where she was, she answered, “In the kitchen, where the fire is.” Flummoxed, the fire guy asked, “Where do you live?” She answered, “out at the edge of town.” “What I really need to know,” he countered, is “how do we get there?” Equally chafed, she answered, “Can’t you just ride on that new fire truck y’all bought last year?”

On another topic, give the Texas Aggies a gold star for being hold-outs. Texas A&M– one of the last major universities in Texas to sell beer and wine at football games–will start this fall. Not until about two weeks ago did the Southeast Conference authorize such sales. Some Aggie faithful will chalk this up as an “SEC championship.” Others, however, see it as a continuing sell-out by university governing boards to TV networks. There’s little need to point out that said TV networks profit greatly from ads promoting alcoholic beverages. One A&M official said the decision “enhances amenities at Kyle Field.” Amenities are in the eyes of beholders, and are defined as being “desirable or useful features of a building or place.” I join a minority chorus of others who fail to consider sale of such beverages at university football games an amenity. End of sermon, but probably a topic to be resurrected at another time.

Dr. Newbury is a former educator who “commits speeches” round about. Comments or inquiries to: [email protected]. Ph.: 817-447-3872. Web: Twitter: @donnewbury. Facebook: don newbury.