SIOUX CITY | Biker Mike Walker hopes his trip through Sioux City going to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in western South Dakota won’t cost him a citation.
Walker, a firefighter from Perryville, Ark., knows about the Interstate 29 cameras and how tickets are automatically sent for speeding.
"Maybe we'll have something in the mail when we get back," he said. "Who knows?"
Hundreds of riders are heading up I-29 for the 74th rally, which kicks off Monday and ends Aug. 10. The event usually draws about 500,000 to the Black Hills. Interstate 29 is a major artery from eastern and southern states.
Sioux City is about 450 miles from Sturgis using Interstates 29 and 90. Sioux City hotels, retailers and gas stations typically benefit during the days before and after the rally.
Heidi Reinking, a manager at Rooster's Harley-Davidson on Lewis Boulevard, said bikers provide important revenue. She is optimistic bikers won’t avoid Sioux City because of the speed cameras.
"We hope not, anyway," Reinking said. "A lot of families plan their trips based on where the dealerships are."
The cameras have drawn criticism because they automatically issue tickets to the owner — not necessarily the driver — of a vehicle. Some say the system contradicts constitutional guarantees of due process. Critics also have said the city is extorting out-of-state drivers and vowed to not patronize local businesses.
The cameras are the subject of an ongoing legal case between the state Department of Transportation and city about the appropriateness of the devices. Sioux City has two mobile speed cameras on I-29, as well as 11 red-light cameras at nine intersections.
South Dakota lawmakers recently passed legislation that prohibits that state’s transportation department from sharing motor vehicle data for the purposes of ticketing people caught on automatic traffic cameras. The law was sponsored by Sen. Dan Lederman, R-Dakota Dunes.
Speed cameras ticket drivers who exceed the posted speed limit by 11 mph. Police have repeatedly said the devices are for ensuring safety in construction zones and making sure workers are not hurt. Cameras generated nearly $5 million for Sioux City in fiscal year 2013.
Walker, who heads a chapter of the Protectors Law Enforcement Motorcycle Club, said he had to pass through Sioux City on his route to Sturgis. The group ended up having lunch at Rooster's while they passed through.
"The cameras haven't stopped us,” he said, “but they've hindered us.”
Fellow club member Eddy Rathjen, a police officer from Perryville, Ark., said the devices are impersonal.
"I don't think they should automatically send you a ticket in the mail. Who's to say you were riding that bike?" he said.
Sioux City police Capt. Mel Williams said the cameras shouldn't be an issue for members of law enforcement.
"All they have to do is follow the laws the enforce every day at work," Williams said. "We also have officers on patrol, so if they insist on violating the law in Sioux City, they can get that personal touch."
Rathjen said the cameras probably won't deter any riders from passing through the city, because most of them don't know they're there.
For Rooster's, the one clear business benefit is all the road construction. Bikers stop at shops for repairs and other services. This year, Rooster's has seen a steady stream of bikers, including a group from Canada on Wednesday.
"It can be a dangerous situation for them out there," she said. "We're trying to keep them as far from Gordon Drive as we can. We just want to warn them about that main construction area."
Walker said the roadwork is taking a toll.
“It's slowed us down quite a bit. All the gravel and potholes can be kind of dangerous on a motorcycle,” he said. "And some of your potholes look like the Grand Canyon.”