The Texas Tribune has put together a terriffic interactive database on Texas red light cameras that constitutes what IMO is their best piece of web journalism since launching the online, nonprofit news site. I've been waiting for the Tribune's journalism to go beyond academic descriptions of the process and force itself inexorably into the public debate, which this project definitely does. (Congrats to Matt Stiles and others involved.) I'd expect local newspapers and TV stations around the state to pick up the Tribune's information and localize stories for their own audiences - as well they should. And when pols, state and local, get around to debating red-light cameras, the Tribune data will for sure be a central part of the debate. Elise Hu points out this TV news piece out of Dallas that shows how easily the story can be localized:
Go here to see their interactive package and look up red light camera sites and data from your home area.
The top revenue-generating red light camera in Texas is in Duncanville, where one camera generated tickets totaling more than $1,000,000. Statewide, thirty individual red-light cameras generated more than $500,000 in revenue each during the year analyzed by the Tribune, and there appears to be little connection between the number of citations given and the number of crashes at a particular intersection.
In Austin, the two intersections with the highest revenue totals happen to be the ones closest to my house: At the intersections of I-35 and 11th Street and I-35 and 15th. At both of these, particularly at 15th Street, the red-light cameras are IMO likely taking advantage of traffic engineering flaws that notoriously strand drivers in mid-intersection when the traffic-light changes (there's an awkward, quick merge there from IH-35 where drivers must criss-cross to get where they need to be before the light). FWIW, those intersections are also essentially gateways into central East Austin with it's disproprotionately minority population, which means that's mostly who the city is mulcting these fines from.
Which brings me to my main, personal beef with red-light cameras: Better safety outcomes may be achieved with no fines or surveillance cameras simply by lengthening yellow-light times and other traffic engineering solutions. The Lege should require longer minimum yellow-light times at intersections where red-light cameras go up. If they did, I bet you wouldn't have any million-dollar traffic cams like the one up in Duncanville. Seeing these data reinforce my belief that the main motive for installing red-light cameras is revenue-generation, not public safety.