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February 7, 2012 > Letter to the Editor: About Red Light Cameras

Letter to the Editor: About Red Light Cameras

These cameras are not necessary. However, many good, responsible, drivers hold a different view. A view such as: "There are many annoying drivers on the road, some of whom are red light runners. If red light cameras can curb this behavior, then good."

However, red light cameras are much more about revenue than safety. In the two minutes it may take to read this article, how can I show you that? I may not convince you, but perhaps I can plant a seed of doubt that these devices are not helping us create safer intersections.

In November of 2010, Caltrans lengthened the yellow light time on Mission Blvd at Mohave Dr. from the State mandated minimum of 4.3 seconds to 5.0 seconds; a minuscule 0.7 seconds longer. Overall, before this change was made, the number of citations was static. For eight of the previous 12 months, the number of tickets actually increased. There was no significant reduction in red light running. But as soon as the yellow time was increased, violations were immediately cut in half; Red Light Running was cut in half. And the violation rate has stayed down for more than a year.

Wherever and whenever the strategy of lengthening yellow time is employed, red light running is reduced. The degree by which it is reduced is directly related to how many tenths-of-seconds are added to the yellow light. Among cities extending their yellow lights are cities in Fairfax County, VA, San Diego, CA, Loma Linda, CA, Menlo Park, CA, cities in the state of Georgia, and Newark, CA; each of these has seen a similar reduction in violations.

Cities are reluctant to employ this engineering strategy because there is an accompanying loss of revenue... and the loss of revenue is significant. The reduction in violations on Mission at Mohave has meant a loss of revenue to the city of $120,000 to $144,000 per year, just from 98 fewer tickets being issued each month.

I have heard all the arguments against employing such a strategy. The number of violations will rebound to previous levels as people adjust; this only rewards red light runners; traffic is delayed as it will take longer to get a green light; citizen complaints will increase. All these things are untrue. Let me tell you the story about Newark, CA.

About six years ago, Newark activated five red light cameras but before doing so, extended yellow light times 0.7 seconds above the minimum required. Let's credit Newark for this foresight. Straight through citations in Newark are so low that they are almost non-existent; about 600 per year. Fremont, on the other hand, prints about 6,000 straight through citations per year. Fremont had 10 cameras active compared to Newark's five, but neither that, nor the variance in the average daily vehicle traffic among all the monitored approaches accounts for this huge disparity.

Do you see the problem? Can Fremont afford to reduce red light running by simply extending the yellow light times? To do so would either mean the city would have to find another way to increase violations (cite more right turners, for example) or take a loss on the program, or just get rid of the cameras.

I would like to point out a final element. Extending yellow light times can be done anywhere there is evidence of a safety hazard. Fremont has nearly 200 signalized intersections. This strategy can be used anywhere at little cost. We don't have to pay nearly $60,000 per year for another camera. Just extend the yellow light.

Roger Jones

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