Thousands of local motorists have been hit with speeding tickets from New Orleans traffic cameras this year, especially with the number of cameras nearly doubling since January, when 55 new locations were added.
One of the new locations is on Leake Avenue near Short Street, the route Joyce Hamilton has used to commute to work for the past 36 years. She said she was shocked when she received a citation in the mail.
“I was like, ‘Where is this camera? Where is this speed limit sign? I drive on that street almost every day and I had no idea,” Hamilton said.
Turns out that hundreds of other drivers also had no clue, because the city didn’t install a new 25 mile-per-hour speed limit sign until May 11, city records show.
When Hamilton was cited for speeding, the only speed limit she knew was 35 miles an hour, as shown on the last sign you see traveling into New Orleans from Jefferson Parish.
On five separate dates starting on April 12, the city issued 831 tickets to southbound drivers using a mobile traffic unit, the records show.
After WWL-TV brought the discrepancy to the city’s attention, the administration agreed to dismiss all tickets issued before the speed limit sign was installed.
“All 831 citations issued on the specified days will be dismissed, and any payments made will be refunded. The registered owners of the vehicles will receive a letter in the mail from the City’s traffic safety camera vendor in 1-2 weeks notifying them of the dismissal,” the city wrote in a statement.
City records show that the first date that tickets were issued on Leake, April 12, was a busy one, logging about 300 of the citations.
Joshua Murray was one of the first recipients.
“I didn’t know anything until I got a ticket in the mail,” Murray said. “I was shocked by it. I couldn't believe it. I thought, there has to be something wrong with this.”
Murray’s mother, attorney Marcy Planer, started researching her son’s ticket when he told her he never saw any speed limit sign. She decided to contest the ticket and immediately began requesting records from the city.
“When I got the records, I found there was no signage to alert drivers of the speed limit,” Planer said.
Weeks later, she saw the newly installed sign.
“As an attorney, I know how to navigate the system, but it’s time-consuming and it takes money,” she said. “But I feel it was worth it to have all these tickets dismissed.”
Tulane Professor Richard Marksbury also sensed something was wrong when he got a ticket on Leake without seeing any speed limit sign.
“So I went looking. And I kept looking and looking and looking and there was no sign,” he said. “Then suddenly one day, a sign appeared.”
After the speed limit sign was installed, Planer said she found evidence to contest her son’s ticket right there on the spot. On the back of the sign is the date of installation written in black ink, “5/11/17.”
Leake Avenue is in New Orleans City Council member Susan Guidry's district. She said she heard complaints from a couple of constituents, one of whom wrote an angry email in which he called the traffic camera program a “money grab” and that his “wife ready to leave the city.”
Guidry said she was relieved to learn that the city was correcting its mistake.
“I'm congratulating Channel Four from the bottom of my heart because I knew I was going to have to have this fight after I'd heard about it,” Guidry said.
The dismissals mean that more than $100,000 dollars in potential revenue won’t be collected for those 831 citations.