Jan 232017
 
Owen Courrèges

Owen Courrèges

Last week, I chronicled the exploits of New Orleans’ newest weapon against the scourge of speeding – roving speed camera vehicles. You’ll recall that one of these vehicles was caught doing something rather naughty; namely, it was seen parked across the sidewalk on Lakeshore Drive.

I fully expected that the city would do what it normally does when it gets caught with its pants down: either ignore the incident entirely or (alternatively) issue a statement expressing regret and vowing corrective action to ensure that it wouldn’t happen again.

Instead, the city chose Option “C.” It dug in its heels and defended the indefensible.

To wit, Erin Burns, Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s press secretary, issued the following statement:

The purpose of the City of New Orleans Traffic Safety program is to deter red light violations, reduce speeding violations, increase traffic situational awareness and reduce collision severity. While operating in an official capacity, City of New Orleans public safety vehicles may park at any location or right-of-away within the City to deter illegal driving behavior. This vehicle was operating in a public safety capacity.”

The foregoing should be read slowly, preferably following a shot of whiskey. It may take a moment for the full implications to settle in. The city is saying that privately owned vehicles – vehicles designed for automated enforcement of speed limits – are essentially the same as fire trucks, ambulances, and police vehicles responding to emergency calls.

What temerity Mayor Landrieu must have to claim this – what sheer, unmitigated gall. He’s placing private speed cameras in the same position as first responders.

The reasoning being used is plainly specious. First of all, vehicles owned by American Traffic Solutions (ATS) and deployed for the purpose of issuing speeding tickets are not “public safety vehicles.” They are not akin to police cars and other emergency vehicles.

Secondly, while emergency vehicles necessarily have dispensation vis-à-vis parking laws when actually responding to emergencies, they are not simply exempt from traffic laws. The police are generally supposed to park legally; they are not supposed to commit crimes in the name of enforcing the law. So to recap the rule for public vehicles parking illegally – exigent circumstances: yes, routine circumstances: no.

Truthfully, the police tend to skirt parking laws. I’ve seen countless officers and deputies who shamelessly place “OFFICER ON DUTY” signs on the dashboard of their personal vehicles, as though they can park anywhere they please. I’ve also seem officers parked illegally to write tickets, often creating a far greater hazard. However, we normally understand that these officers are merely taking advantage. The rule of law still applies.

There’s good reason to limit parking dispensation to actual emergencies. Many parking restrictions have a safety component. The law against parking over the entire sidewalk is one of these. It forces people to walk into the street, including vulnerable persons like children and the handicapped.

The city touts dubious safety gains from speed cameras as a justification for blocking the sidewalk, but forcing countless pedestrians to divert into the street sounds a little more dangerous than a few people speeding on Lakeshore Drive.

Moreover, the city isn’t even issuing actual tickets. It announced last week that anybody caught by the mobile cameras between Jan. 9 and Feb. 9 will just receive a warning and not a ticket.

Thus, the ATS car was kicking people out into the street for… nothing.

The real question now, though, is just how far the city and ATS are going to take this. After all, according to them, speed camera vehicles have carte blanche. They can park literally anywhere. Heck, you might wake up tomorrow to see an ATS vehicle in your driveway. If you call the parking division, I’m sure Ms. Burns would be kind enough to spew not-so-comforting drivel about how “public safety vehicles may park at any location within the city.”

What is certain is that there is no argument so ridiculous that the city will not employ it in defense of traffic cameras. All other concerns are secondary to keeping those cameras flashing, including basic safety. If that doesn’t tell you where Mayor Landrieu’s priorities lie, I don’t know what will.

Owen Courrèges, a New Orleans attorney and resident of the Garden District, offers his opinions for UptownMessenger.com on Mondays. He has previously written for the Reason Public Policy Foundation.

  • Cannibal Special

    OC,

    Do you really have nothing better to write about?! Parking on the sidewalk in an official capacity is not likely to ever be an issue anyone cares about. So give us all a break and quit with the whining!

    On another note, “drivel” (good word!) like this article does nothing to bolster your – or presumably, UM’s – relentless indictment of Mayor Landrieu. It just reveals you to be desperate and petty.

    • Owen Courrèges

      Cannibal,

      You’re really defending this? Parking over the sidewalk, except in emergencies, is certainly something people can and do care about. It’s dangerous and illegal, and I’ve explained why. A person in a wheelchair being forced to hop the curb and go into the street really doesn’t bother you? That’s disturbing.

      This “official capacity” argument is exactly the problem. It’s the “laws are for the little people” argument, that we should expect government to issue laws but not to follow them. That’s classic corruption, and it’s something New Orleans needs to back away from. I fail to see how arguing against that is petty.

      I frankly, think it’s more likely that you’re a Landrieu sycophant than you disagree substantively. But Landrieu doesn’t even have anything resembling a reasonable argument here. It’s patently absurd.

      • Sheila Connolly

        Agreed!

      • JimLeemann

        Owen, his/her user name says it all.

      • Cannibal Special

        No doubt there is real corruption to be found in government, but to equate parking a law enforcement vehicle on the sidewalk – for a specific and practical reason, no less – to corruption, is at best laughably hyperbolic and at worst, dangerously misguided. Let’s split the difference and just call it what it is: partisan rhetoric.

        The irony of this whole argument, of course, is that the root of the issue involves the purported populist disdain for speed-trap cameras. Speed-limit laws, apparently, are not so important … but you had better not block the sidewalk!

    • Turlet

      I care about this issue. The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. The Tolerant Left loves to silence dissent in one party enclaves like this.

      • Cannibal Special

        Fair enough, but let’s clarify the issue. The subject of OC’s article is an official vehicle parking on the sidewalk on the Lakefront. Is your concern parking on the sidewalk? If so, just walk around any Metro neighborhood and you will be regularly snaking into the street around illegally parked cars. Where has the outrage been there? Why here and now, all of a sudden? If your concern is speed-trap cameras and/or liberal government, then lets just have that conversation and skip the rhetorical gyrations over parking!

        • Turlet

          As a camera and Democratic big government supporter, you see the parking and camera issues as separate, neither being worthy of opposition. However, for everyone like me, both are examples of municipal government openly ignoring and twisting the law. We believe that governments must obey the law as written. The illegal parking issue constitutes a few more flies added to the steaming sheetburger of illegal traffic cameras. We will oppose every aspect of this dangerous government overreach until it is eradicated.

  • Joanne Hilton

    Where are the lawsuits to stop this madness?

    • Owen Courrèges

      Joanne,

      There are always lawsuits pending against the traffic cameras. One of them even managed to shut them down for a while. A lawsuit killed traffic cameras entirely in Jefferson Parish. The more Landrieu ups the ante, the more likely it is that a lawsuit will shut down the cameras for good.

  • Richard Brown

    Excellent analysis!! Very good!

  • KarenNOLA

    Mayor Landrieu’s argument that mobile traffic cameras need not display the elevated signage required by law because they are “mobile “law-enforcement vehicles that are performing a law-enforcement function” is just as ridiculous. They may be enforcing the law, but they are doing so with a device “designed to collect photographic or video evidence of alleged traffic violations by recording images that depict the license plate or other identifying feature of a motor vehicle,” i.e., a red-light camera, which means they should obey the law regarding red-light cameras. The blatant hypocrisy of Landrieu’s refusal to obey the law in sidewalk parking and proper signage while simultaneously admonishing the public that they should do so is outrageous. These cameras have become thinly veiled methods of entrapment designed to procure the tax increase that voters denied Landrieu at the polls.

  • Jazzvox

    after receiving a bill in the mail for stopping in an intersection so I wouldn’t run over a couple bicyclists turning into the intersection without stopping at the red light, trying to fight it and ultimately paying the fine… I now avoid Nola and especially spending money in the parish. dbag Mitch and the city can have the 160$ but will lose a couple thousand in sales tax rev annually, smart management fer sure.