EDITORIAL: It’s about the money, not safety

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(Image/Ashleigh Carter)Do red-light cameras make our roads safer? That’s what City Hall would have you believe, statistics be damned.

City officials tout red-light cameras at busy intersections as a way to cut down on traffic accidents and improve safety. But as statistics show, crashes actually are up at two intersections where additional red-light cameras have been proposed. (The cameras would cover lanes not already under surveillance).

At Duke and Walker streets, the number of crashes dropped to seven in 2011, the year the cameras went live. That’s down from 15 in 2010.

But a year later, accidents jumped to 17. There were then 18 at the intersection last year. The statistics for the second intersection where additional red-light cameras are proposed — South Patrick and Gibbon streets — show a similar trend.

To us, this makes it clear that the surveillance equipment does not — at least here in Alexandria and at these intersections — improve safety. At best, these are just moneymakers for the city.

While officials admit getting a new revenue stream is a benefit, they paint it as an added bonus. Safety is the foremost concern, we are told. In fact, the cameras are making the intersections safer, according to the police department. It’s just not evident out in the crash statistics.

The deputy police chief in charge of the program told the Times that the department sees very few repeat offenders, indicating that most motorists are taking heed of the cameras. The problem? We live in a transient area and newcomers either don’t know about the cameras or aren’t used to them.

And that, to us, seems like just another argument that the cameras don’t work, at least if reducing traffic accidents and improving safety are the primary reasons for the program.

We don’t like red-light cameras for a variety of reasons, including how they represent yet another intrusion into our rapidly disappearing privacy. At the moment, though, we are deeply concerned with what appears to be a blatant case of intellectual dishonesty on the part of the police department and City Hall.

Those cameras are revenue generators — and that’s it. If the city is looking for another cash stream, then so be it. Just don’t hand out tickets while telling us it’s for our own good.

We cannot have an honest debate about the merits of cameras and whether the extra revenue outweighs any concerns on the part of residents until City Hall comes clean about the purpose behind the devices. In fact, this charade makes us wonder what else is getting spun in the name of what’s good for us.

Until then, officials risk seeing public trust in City Hall erode. Let’s just call a spade a spade.