I spent this afternoon with about 150 of my friends and neighbors at City Hall.

No, it wasn’t a city council meeting. It wasn’t some award presentation or a summer concert. What was it?

Traffic Court.

Yes, I was one of those randomly chosen by Lockport’s finest to pay the city a little something extra. As if my taxes weren’t bad enough.

I guess with hundreds of people retiring from Delphi and possibly moving elsewhere, and those who still work there facing reduced wages, the city felt they needed to collect some money before the opportunity was gone.

The stories were all different, yet all the same. One young man told of just barely getting to the city limit and being nailed before he even had a chance to slow down. In my case, it was a school zone. I find it hard to believe that in less than a block from stopping at a red traffic light I could be speeding, yet the vehicle in front of me, which I was not catching up to, or even close to, was not. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that the vehicle was a Lockport City streets department truck and probably knew the cop…

The funny thing is, I knew I was in front of the school. My daughter goes there. I volunteer with the robotics team there. In fact, one of the kids on the team, a neighbor, saw me as I was stopped by the police car. He told me later that they counted over 40 cars stopped there that morning.

So, I’m in favor of being extra careful around schools, but it still grates against me that they use our schools as speed traps. It was 10:45 in the morning – long after anyone would be walking to school. In fact, the whole area is a traffic bottleneck, a large part of which is caused by the parking problem caused by the cars the students drive to school. Some of them have nicer cars than I can afford.

These are not wide-eyed kindergartners who might forget to look both ways. They’re almost adults. Yet, because I drove at a speed that, frankly my car practically idles at, wouldn’t have made a cop look up from his paper and doughnut anywhere else, I get to fatten the city’s coffers.

It’s not that I have a problem with being charged with speeding, it’s the way it’s done. The way it has become a way to supplement the city’s income. I live near another school zone and I hear the sirens every day – that little short, one or two taps on the siren that mean they’re pulling over a law-abiding motorist, not a long blast like chasing a real criminal would require. I see them all over the city in every school zone and out on West Ave. (let’s catch some Delphi workers, they’re loaded and will just pay the fine, rather than argue.) So it’s not a matter of drawing attention and getting caught, it’s more a matter of time until you’re caught in a moment of inattention and get nailed.

Unfortunately, for most people, it’s become another cost of driving a vehicle. Just like the price of gas. We grumble and complain, but don’t do anything about it. Fight a ticket in court? Not a chance. Hiring a lawyer will cost three times what the ticket does and they’ll get the same result. A plea to a reduced charge in exchange for paying essentially the same fine, and maybe going to some driving school, all in exchange for not going to trial and saving the court some time.

It’s not justice anymore, it’s business. Even the driving school. You go to it and what is it? A side job for some cop. Let’s see 20 or 30 “students” every Saturday morning. Pass out a few handouts, watch some videos, look at some scare photos and collect $25 a head. Not bad for a couple hours work.

But because paying the fine and getting out of there is easier than missing more time from work ($$$) hiring a lawyer ($$$) going to trial and risking a higher fine ($$$) rather than the reduced charge, is expedient – and the city knows it – they continue to run this scam and pocket the money. It doesn’t hurt that the lesser charges let the fines collected stay local, rather than be sent in to the state.

What really hurts, is sometimes they pay police officers overtime to go on these radar patrols and pay for it out of grant money from the state. Your tax dollars at work.

Here’s how it would be done in a city that really was out to serve their citizens.

Yes, they would still use radar, especially in sensitive areas like school zones. They would pull over people who were speeding. They would check their paperwork. Their vehicle condition. They’d look for anything unusual. But when a normal citizen was clocked at 30 in a 20mph school zone, why not issue a warning? We all know it happens. We all do it sometimes. Even cops and lawyers and judges. The only difference here is we were caught at the wrong time and place.

If the intent is to keep the speed of traffic down in school areas, then that would do it. It’s not like we’re such a big city that regular offenders wouldn’t be recognized. Write them a ticket. But cut a taxpaying citizen a break.

I have a beef with the school zone law anyway. It’s a prime example of how our lawmakers overreact to emotional events and a vocal minority. The whole 20mph school zone deal is applied way too broadly. Sure, some tragic event must have been cited to create the law. But that won’t bring back some kid that ran into the street. And dead at 30mph and dead at 20mph is the same in the end. The idea is okay. Yes, driving slower will reduce stopping distances and reaction times will be less critical, but 7am to 7pm? We have a school here that is one of the favorite hang outs for the speed traps. It’s on a major route. A state route, in fact. Four lanes wide, until they repainted the lines. Yet, not one child walks to that school. Not one. It is 100% bussed in and all students are discharged in a parking lot in the rear of the school. Why do we need a 20mph school zone in the front?

There’s only one reason. The law allows it and it’s a money-maker.

While we were waiting to speak with the city attorney, the Mayor, Mike Tucker walked through. There was more than a few murmurs and snickers. I bet he wishes he could get that many people to show up to a common-council meeting.