Red-light cameras don’t deter scofflaws

By Erich Wagner (File photo)

Although city leaders repeatedly assert that the justification for red-light cameras in Alexandria is based solely on safety and deterring motorists from running red lights, statistics continue to suggest that, at best, they just don’t work.

According to data obtained by the Times through a Freedom of Information Act request, the number of tickets issued through the program increased each year since it was implemented in July 2011. Revenues from the cameras also have increased each year.

In July 2011, the city began to operate three red-light cameras, at the intersections of Duke and Walker streets, South Patrick and Gibbon streets and South Patrick and Franklin streets. After granting motorists a one-month warning period, the city issued 6,923 tickets in 2011.

While the increase in 2012 to 11,707 citations was to be expected — it was the first full year of camera operation — the number of tickets issued spiked in 2013, with 14,534 tickets mailed.

While revenues — not including the cost to conduct and maintain the program — from red-light tickets started at nearly $136,000 in 2011, they rocketed to $510,000 in 2012. And revenues also rose in 2013 to a total of more than $563,000 that year.

Although Police Chief Earl Cook and Deputy Chief Eddie Reyes were out of town this week and unavailable to comment, Reyes said in previous interviews that the city sees few drivers get multiple tickets thanks to the camera program.

“One thing we have not seen is the repeat offender,” Reyes said last month. “We don’t mail red-light violations to individuals repeatedly.”

Although statistics don’t suggest that cameras deter running red lights or reduce crashes — as the Times discovered last month — city councilors still voted to expand the program when they approved the fiscal 2015 budget.

Faced with a major deficit, councilors voted to add red-light cameras at the three intersections where they already are in place. That is above and beyond the expansion recommended by City Manager Rashad Young, which only called for additional cameras at the unmonitored corners of Duke and Walker streets and South Patrick and Gibbon streets.

City Councilor Justin Wilson said that, despite the statistics, the cameras do enhance traffic safety and deter potential red-light runners. He suggested that the spikes in tickets and crashes could be attributed to an increase in the total number of cars using city roads.

“The volume is picking up, and I’m not sure how to look at the data as far as crash volume is concerned when you also have general volume [of cars] increasing at the same time,” Wilson said. “Certainly, there are studies that say that red-light cameras increase the visibility of intersections and the likelihood that people pay attention to it.”

Councilor Tim Lovain also stood by council’s decision to expand camera usage at the three intersections, but said he would be skeptical of future expansions.

“I think the red-light cameras have shown their value in our city and in other jurisdictions,” he said. “It’s not just a measure to get drivers to stop. It’s a way to slow drivers and encourage them to comply with the speed limits and it’s a safety measure as well.

“I don’t want to see a lot more cameras coming from the city, but I thought that measure was worth supporting.”

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(1) Reader Comment

  1. If you look at the zipcodes of who gets the tickets, you’ll see that after a camera has been in place for more than six months, the huge majority of the tickets go to visitors.
    And that means that installing cameras in an area with high turnover will not stop
    the running, as there’s always fresh meat, sorry, new visitors, making mistakes, being distracted or lost (unless you keep them out by installing a dome, like the one they have in Chester’s Mill, Maine). And the red light camera business model says it has to be that
    way, because without a continuing flow of tickets, the camera company can’t
    have the continuous flow of revenue it needs. So, the cameras are usually put in at intersections controlling the access to regional draws such as colleges, major airports, major hospitals, shopping centers and sports facilities.

    If a city genuinely wants to stop running, and accidents,
    it will do things to make the intersection stand out, more prominent. Put up more visible signal lights (larger diameter, with big backboards, and placed on the “near” side of the intersection”). Paint “signal ahead” on the pavement. Lighted overhead street signs for the cross street, and larger bulbs in the streetlights at the intersection. Except for the extra signal pole on the near side, all of these engineering fixes are
    dirt cheap and quick to do, so if a city identifies a dangerous intersection
    and then puts in a camera instead of fixing the intersection, you can easily
    guess that their motive is money from tickets, not safety.

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