8/22/2013California: Red Light Camera Renewal Meets Resistance
Report questions motivation behind red light camera renewal in Menlo Park, California.
City councils not so long ago would renew a contract authorizing the use of red light cameras without controversy or discussion. Now the issue has become hotly contested, as residents and political leaders begin to push back against the use of photo enforcement in their community. Opponents in Menlo Park, California on Tuesday succeeded in briefly delaying approval of an automated ticketing machine expansion.
In 2006, Menlo Park signed a five-year deal with Redflex Traffic Systems that granted the Australian firm the right to issue the $480 traffic tickets through May 3, 2013. The four-camera system is now running on a temporary extension that expires in September. Staff are recommending a long-term renewal that includes the addition of a fifth camera considering the program's success. Redflex issued 3898 tickets worth $1,871,040. City officials were pleased that most recipients had no vote in Menlo Park.
"Over the five-year operation of this program, an average of ten percent of the violations that are sent out incorporate registered owners who reside in the Menlo Park 94025 or 94026 zip codes," Menlo Park Police Sergeant Sharon A. Kaufman said on Tuesday. "Which means ninety percent of the violations are going to outside visitors to the city."
City staff argued the city is safer with the cameras in place, producing a memo with three paragraphs devoted to the issue of safety.
"Our rear-end collisions are up slightly, but our t-bones and side impacts are down," Kaufman insisted.
Jay Beeber, Executive Director of Safer Streets LA, took issue with the staff analysis and crunched the numbers on his own using six years of data from the California Highway Patrol's Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System database of traffic collisions. The analysis evaluated whether there has been a reduction in the number of collisions where a red light violation is listed as the cause of an accident.
Beeber found at the El Camino Real at Glenwood and Bayfront Expressway at Ravenswood intersections, red light running caused no accidents in almost three years prior to the installation of cameras, so there could be no improvement at these locations attributable to camera use. Instead, rear end collisions increased at both intersections. At Bayfront Expressway at Willow Road, the yellow time was increased from 3.0 to 3.5 seconds, which could account for the statistically insignificant fall in crashes (from two per year to one). The difference is even smaller when collisions that would have happened regardless of the presence of cameras are excluded.
"Of the six collisions occurring in the three year before period, one is known to have been the fatality caused by a driver under the influence of narcotics who made a left turn from the through lanes across the left turn lanes and across oncoming traffic," Beeber wrote. "While this is categorized as a red light running collision, clearly it was not the typical situation of a driver 'pushing the yellow' and other factors, such as a DUI were involved. Likewise, another collision during the before period was a hit and run occurring late at night."
The city council postponed making a decision on extending the contract until the August 27 meeting. The council may also consider adding a camera that would issue right turn tickets almost exclusively. That would put Menlo Park at odds with the trend in neighboring communities. The cities of Belmont, Burlingame, Emeryville, Hayward, Redwood City, San Carlos and Union City have all canceled their red light camera programs.