Thursday, February 24, 2011

Bill Would Allow Citizens To Vote On Red Light Camera Use

The Washington state House and Senate are moving to impose new standards on cities' use of traffic cameras, but an effort to give voters a chance to veto cameras hasn't come to fruition. The House Transportation Committee earlier this week rejected voter approval for cameras, as suggested by House Bill 1279.

The Olympian has the story on the movement to let citizens decide whether or not to use red light cameras. I suspect I know the answer to this, but would you like to have a say in whether red light cameras are used in our area or do you think our elected officials should continue to make that decision?


Anonymous said...

Politicians can decide. The cameras are great. You break the law, the camera records the proof, you are fined. It's very simple. The cameras don't lie, racial profile, gender profile, class profile, etc. like the police can. They should be in at every intersection with red running problems.

SRTC Staff said...

They also bring in money to improve safety in neighborhoods.

Hank Greer said...

If photo red is a safety program as the City of Spokane claims, then it should be used in a study that includes other methods of mitigating or preventing red light runners. This would include things like increasing the time of the amber lights, overlapping the red lights going in both directions, etc. That would show just how effective each method is and the one shown to be the most effective could be adopted.

If the purpose is to raise funds, which seems to be the case in Spokane, then the city should just say so.

SRTC Staff said...

The City maintains that the red light cameras ARE a safety program. As for doing a study on them, and other red light running mitigation techniques, they rely on studies already done in other communities. From the Spokane City Police Department website:

"Automated safety systems have been shown to reduce red-light violations and intersection crashes. Numerous studies throughout the U.S. and worldwide, as well as the experience of many other cities, indicate significant decreases in red-light running violations and collisions after cameras were installed. Often times, a spillover effect results from automated enforcement: other intersections not monitored by automated enforcement also see a decrease in violations and accidents because of the presence of enforcement in other areas of the community.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety:

“Cameras have been shown to substantially reduce red light violations. Institute evaluations in Fairfax, Virginia, and Oxnard, California, showed that camera enforcement reduced red light running violations by about 40 percent. In addition to reducing red light running at camera-equipped sites, violation reductions in both communities carried over to signalized intersections not equipped with red light cameras, indicating community-wide changes in driver behavior. An Institute evaluation of red light cameras in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, found that after red light violations were reduced by 36 percent following increased yellow signal timing, the addition of red light cameras further reduced red light violations by 96 percent.”"

Charles Hansen said...

The other night they had a report to the City Council on the red light cameras and each one reduced the number of collisions at the intersections with the cameras, so I guess they are working as a safety measure.

SRTC Staff said...

Thanks Charles, I'll look that up and see if they mention HOW MUCH they reduced collisions.

Steve said...

I'm OK with red light cameras ... as long as they're revenue neutral. Remove the financial incentive for the city to put them in and my objection goes away.

So, would I like to have my say? Yes. The police department should put them in where they are needed at a net cost of $0 and producing $0 in net revenue.

The city maintains that the red light cameras are a safety program. While I'm sure they are, I refer you to their prior comments on the matter.

Some of them are summarized in the comments on a previous SRTC blog entry.

Perhaps this official document from the Spokane Police web site will shed light on whether the program is viewed as a revenue source. There is a copy here in case it goes away.

For those who don't want to have to follow the link on the last document:

"Congratulations to Teresa Fuller, Senior Police Officer, who has been chosen as the City of Spokane's Employee of the Month for April 2009. Teresa began her career as a police officer with the City in 1998 and now manages the Red Light Photo Enforcement program, a program which has brought in approximately $45,000 in revenues to the City since its implementation last year."
-- Spokane Police Department

vanillajane said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
vanillajane said...

Revenue Neutral.

I am sure when there are issues with red light runners in an intersection revenue is expected to jump when cameras are first installed. This pays only part of initial cost and set-up.

As the regular RL runners learn to control themselves, the system becomes revenue neutral.

I wonder if 'undercover' law enforcement professionals are the largest group of protesters. It takes one task away from them.

Hank Greer said...

One would think that referencing studies done elsewhere would be satisfactory, but the city's own numbers have shown that photo red's ability to catch red light violators is making more of a difference by adding to the city's coffers, not preventing accidents.

See the Review articles last year at


Officer Fuller's comment that accidents typically increase in the first year after photo red is adopted have no basis in fact. In all the material I've read about photo red, this was the first time I saw such a claim.

If we're that concerned with safety then we should be trying other measures as well. Unfortunately, overlapping red lights and increasing the time on amber lights does not bring in $270,000 a year.

SRTC Staff said...

The idea I get is that the program was implemented, but not originally identified as either a safety measure or money maker, then the focus was shifted to after the public spoke out against it as a money maker. It happens fairly often. I personally don't have a problem with it being a revenue source because I figure that's what you get for running a red light. There are only a handful of them in the area and they are signed so if you get caught, it's your own fault. You can also get ticketed by an officer at other signals for doing the same thing, you just have less chance of getting caught there. I go through the photo red intersection at Sprague and Browne all the time and have never gotten a ticket, but a woman in our office got one on Francis. And she was NOT happy.

SRTC Staff said...

Hank- I forgot to address your comment about overlapping red lights and leaving the lights amber longer. The City has an employee devoted to light timing. I know this person and she is VERY into her job. She drives the corridors constantly to make sure they're in succession, the timing is correct, etc.

You may argue with them, but according to the City, the signals are meticulously timed the way they are for a reason; to get people through the lights in a timely manner without causing much backup, while providing enough time for pedestrians to cross the street. Every little tweak, I've been told, throws off the system somewhere else. With that said, I'll ask her what the impact would be to make those changes and report back.

Rachel said...

I was driving my car today, and the light turned yellow, so I slowed to stop. The car well behind me in the neighboring lane plowed right on through. The light was red before that car even entered the intersection.

It's insane!
And there wasn't even snow on the road. I do always cringe when I "run" yellow lights because it's snowy and I'd rather squeeze through a yellow than get into a wreck, but too many people in Spokane decide they can just keep on going until the light is actually red 10 feet before they reach the intersection.

Yellow means prepare to stop, NOT hurry up and get through before it's red. Spokane has forgotten this, and if red light cameras are going to help the city remember (and they certainly use much less of the tax monies Spokanites do not want to pay out), then more power to them.

We have enough accidents, sometimes even fatal ones, because people can't be bothered to wait at a few lights.
Enforcement works.

Now if only I could figure out why I always see the cameras at Maple and Wellsley flashing when no one is even in the intersection.....

I do like Hank's suggestion about overlapping red lights. It's been 14 years since I lived in Reno, NV, but I seem to recall they did that there.
Of course, the question is if longer yellow and overlapping reds will just cause drivers to run through the yellow lights even more than they already do.....

I personally lean toward enforcement and wish we had more of it in this city ... and not just for running traffic lights.

SRTC Staff said...

The camera at Second and Thor also does that, flashes at odd times when no one has actually run a red light. When I hear back from the folks at the City on changing the light timing (left a message there on Friday) I'll ask about the 'phantom red light runners' too.

SRTC Staff said...

The word from the City folk is that they can't just change the timing of the lights drastically. The exact wording was: 'As we retime signals and implement photo red, we calculate the amber interval based on ITE Traffic Engineering Handbook Methodologies.'

SRTC Staff said...

The following comment was posted to the website by Hank Greer but didn't show up for some reason (I got it in my email inbox as I like to see when comments come in so know he made the comment). So I'm posting it so everyone can see it:

Hank Greer has left a new comment on your post "Bill Would Allow Citizens To Vote On Red Light Cam...":

Thanks for asking the city the question.

The US Department of Transportation publishes the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. The Section 4D.10 of the 2003 version stated this about yellow light durations.

A yellow change interval should have a duration of approximately 3 to 6 seconds. The longer intervals should be reserved for use on approaches with higher speeds. Option: The yellow change interval may be followed by a red clearance interval to provide additional time before conflicting traffic movements, including pedestrians, are released.

The 2009 version of the manual states:

The duration of the yellow change interval shall be determined using engineering practices.
Engineering practices for determining the duration of yellow change and red clearance intervals can be found in ITE’s “Traffic Control Devices Handbook” and in ITE’s “Manual of Traffic Signal Design” (see Section 1A.11).

While the answer they gave you is valid, it's not very specific.

The question to ask concerns the formula they use to determine the duration of the yellow lights at intersections and specifically those intersections where photo-red is used.

It used to be that the yellow light time was determined by combining the reaction time, the stopping time, and the clearance time. Then it changed (and consequently shortened) to reaction time plus stopping time. All red, i.e., red for all directions, is optional.

A major influence in determining reaction time and stopping time is vehicle speed and to my knowledge they have two choices. They can use the posted speed limit to make this determination. Or they use what's known as the "85th percentile speed" which is the actual speed of 85 percent of the traffic. If you drive at all, you'll know that traffic rarely moves at the posted speed limit. Most the of the time it's 5-10 miles per hour faster. Using the posted speed limit results in a shorter duration for the yellow light than the 85th-percentile speed does.

Which one are they using at the photo red intersections? Why?

SRTC Staff said...

I'll expand my questioning Hank. It may take longer to get a response this time as I may need to make an in-person appointment to discuss this. My Street Department contact was a little hesitant to get in-depth on the subject because it's a Police Department program, but I felt it was relevant to discuss with them as they time the signals, not the SPD.

SRTC Staff said...

The City folk replied that their calculations are the same regardless of whether photo red is in place – and they haven’t changed anything in regards to clearance interval calculations.

They did say that the details involved are pretty in-depth and too long to write out, so they're more than willing to talk one-on-one with any citizens who would like to discuss it in details. Val Melvin with the Street Department said that, if you're interested, call 232-8800 and ask for her.

Hank Greer said...


SRTC Staff said...

No problem. And one more thing Val followed up with: 'none of the re-evaluations of clearance intervals resulted in decreased yellow times…most were minor increases.'

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SRTC is the federally designated Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for Spokane County. Urbanized areas with populations exceeding 50,000 people are required to have an MPO. SRTC was formed to address the county's transportation planning needs. It provides coordination in planning between the public, cities, small towns, the county, the state, transit providers, and tribes.

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