Sunday, February 24, 2008

Lubbock discontinues red light cameras after accidents increase 52% at intersections with cameras

I've not been closely tracking the issue of red light cameras since I left the ACLU, but I was interested to see this comment over at ConchoInfo:
Lubbock is giving us some interesting insights on how many cities view red light cameras. They recently received a report on the first 6 months of operation. The results are so bad, the committee charged with overseeing the program is recommending it be discontinued. It is apparent that the cameras are not really improving public safety. Accidents at intersections with cameras are up by 52% while accidents at other intersections are down by 2.7%. The number of injuries is down, but one commenter on the study said that could be due to a number of factors, including the number of passengers in each vehicle. Right out of the gate, their program seems to be failing, and deserves to be discontinued.
See prior Grits coverage of red light cameras, and more recent coverage from BlogHouston and Off the Kuff.


Anonymous said...

Lubbock is like the Twilight Zone though. Nt fair to include them in any set of statistics and then apply it to the rest of the world.

Cameras work fine in Houston.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

That's why I linked to BlogHouston and Kuff - I haven't been closely following the rollout there, though they have, and don't know what's going on one way or the other.

In Virginia, though, they found the same correlation to accidents as in Lubbock and ultimately ended their use as a result.

Anonymous said...

The Hub City is taking out the cameras for two reasons and two reasons only:

1) All the rightwingers claimed it was unconstitutional to get a ticket and not be able to face your accuser at a trial.

2) Bigtime Mayor's election in May and the incumbent, Mayor Miller, who supported the cameras changed his vote and is now opposed since he has a bigtime, well funded opponent.

Lubbock remains one of the most dangerous cities in which to drive. Residents feel they have the right to run a red light if they are the first, second, or third one to go through the red light.

Anonymous said...

Cameras usually don't reduce the number of accidents. But the post-camera rear-enders are generally less severe than the pre-camera t-bones, so they do serve a purpose even in cities where the overall number isn't reduced.

Have you driven around your hometown in the last few years? Red-light runners there are worse than I've ever seen in any other city in Texas.

Anonymous said...

The primary reason behind the cameras is REVENUE. A pig is still a pig no matter how you "dress it up".

Retired 2004

Editor said...

Rage is right. I provided some review for an analysis of red-light cameras in Milwaukee and the overwhelming evidence is that rear-end collisions increase and the more likely to be severe t-bone accidents decrease.

Revenue is also a big factor, though the stream tends to diminish greatly once drivers get used to the system.

Editor said...

Rear-end collisions increase because drivers who would ordinarily push a yellow are stopping quickly. The following drivers expect them to push the light and act accordingly. This is where the added accidents come from.

Ron in Houston said...

There's no reason that Houston should be any different.

I agree with anonymous pretty clothes on the pig doesn't make it not a pig.

Anonymous said...

Rage is right.

You heard it here first folks.

There's no reason that Houston should be any different.

Yet it is.

Charles Kuffner said...

Weird. We have not seen crash stats in Houston yet, but I feel like we'd have some inkling by now if there'd been a spike. The local reporters have been pretty good at pursuing red light camera stories, and I feel sure someone would have tipped them to this if this were going on. I did an archive search on for "red light cameras" anyway, and found plenty of stories about their implementation and about who gets caught by them, but no inkling of an increase in crashes. But I'll keep looking, and we'll see what the official data says.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for noticing us at conchoinfo. We have the good luck to have Greg Mauz as a local resident, he's the National Motorists Assoc point man on this issue.

The new Chap. 707 takes a lot of the "fun" out of these cameras, but most often, they are much more money machine than safety device. A scandalously common trick has been to shorten yellow intervals at intersection with cameras. Great idea for camera revenue or body shops, guaranteed to increase rear-end accidents.

Just for fun, we still elect our police chief, one of the largest cities to still indulge that perversion. Charter measure to change it failed by 10 points last Nov. Election is coming up May, it's about to become more fun than the law allows, we'll keep you posted.

Anonymous said...

If it was "all about the money" it didn't quite pan out since State Rep. Carl Isset from Lubbock passed a bill last session that divides the fine proceeds between the city and the state. Isset was opposed to red light cameras in general and this was his way of screwing those cities who were in it "for the money."

Gritsforbreakfast said...

You nailed it, 9:04, Isset did a great job leveraging the strong but not quite majority opposition to RLCs into busting the revenue incentive. I hope he's getting credit in his hometown, because you're right, he largely took away the "cash cow" factor critics were worried about, and that will limit their expanded use more than anything.

Anonymous said...

They're popping up all over the Houston area despite the revenue sharing. Half of some money is better than none of a lot of money.

And, I'm one of the proponents of red light cameras. Like I said, go back to Tyler and watch any given intersection for light runners. You'll be amazed.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I'm not much for anecdotal evidence from drivers who've seen red lights run, rage. That level of debate doesn't get us very far. Now if Tyler's accident and injury data were worse than elsewhere and it were possible to identify intersections where the issue is red light running, that's one thing. Even then, there are other solutions besides cameras and ticketing.

The Texas Transportation Institute (at A&M) says that you get more safety benefit from lengthening the yellow by one second than you do issuing tickets with cameras. Why not just do that? Answer: $$$

FWIW, Tyler's a place with major rush hour traffic but also times and places where there's little traffic at all. The idea that somebody might stop at the light then run it if nobody's coming - which I've definitely seen in Tyler - I guess, doesn't completely offend me the way it may some folks. I think the laws are there to preserve safety, not just for their own sake or to mulct drivers with fines.

Now, the kids at Robert E. Lee HS driving fast cars dangerously around South Tyler is a whole 'nuther matter. From a pure traffic safety perspective, I'd support increasing the driving age - I don't think fines will solve that problem. Young people are just bad drivers, as any insurance actuary can tell you, probably for reasons related to brain development.

Anonymous said...

Jesus Grits, not everything is an "anecdotal v. empirical" pissing match.

Tyler traffic sucks balls. Nuff said.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I'll give you that Tyler traffic "sucks balls," as you eloquently put it, rage, especially anywhere near Broadway. But on the anecdotal vs. statistics, on this issue it's a big deal because EVERYBODY thinks they're an expert since they personally saw somebody break X, Y, or Z traffic law. It's a particularly annoying aspect of the debate on this topic.

Also, RLCs wouldn't do a thing to solve Tyler's traffic problem, which stems from rapid growth, poor planning, and underspending by county commissioners who wanted to run on tax cuts instead of build adequate infrastructure. You can't fix that with cameras.

Prescott E. Small said...

Dallas' red light cameras may face changes as revenue estimate drops

Dallas' system works too well, eating into revenues, fueling possible changes

12:00 AM CDT on Saturday, March 15, 2008
By DAVE LEVINTHAL / The Dallas Morning News

Dallas City Hall has idled more than one-fourth of the 62 cameras that monitor busy intersections because many of them are failing to generate enough red-light-running fines to justify their operational costs, according to city documents.

Initial gross revenue estimates for the red light camera system during Dallas' 2007-08 fiscal year were $14.8 million, according to city records. The latest estimate? About $6.2 million. City Manager Mary Suhm on Friday estimated net revenue will fall $4.1 million under initial estimates.

That leaves Dallas government with a conundrum. Its red-light camera system has been an effective deterrent to motorists running red lights – some monitored intersections have experienced a more than 50 percent reduction. But decreased revenue from red light-running violations means significantly less revenue to maintain the camera program and otherwise fuel the city's general fund.

Exacerbating the drain is a new state law requiring that municipalities send half of their net red-light-running camera revenue to Austin and post signs alerting drivers of upcoming camera installations. Also, city records indicate Dallas has lengthened yellow-light intervals on 12 of its 62 monitored traffic signals, giving motorists more time to beat a red light.

City transportation officials say they're brainstorming potential changes to the red-light camera program, which is financed by the general fund, before a planned update to the City Council next month on the program's status.

"We did not anticipate having such success so early with the number of people not running red lights," said Zaida Basora, Dallas' assistant director of public works and transportation. "If you have success in safety, you don't have a lot of success in revenue. The other side is the people will go back to what they were doing before without the cameras."

Curtailing expansion?

Ms. Basora says one likely recommendation to the council is scaling back Dallas' plans to expand the red-light system to 100 cameras.

The council in September voted to expand its camera vendor contract with Dallas-based Affiliated Computer Services, from five years and $13.3 million to seven years and $29.1 million, in order to install the additional cameras.

Initial plans envisioned most of the additional cameras operating by spring. Ms. Basora said installing fewer cameras would probably be more cost-effective.

Another idea staff may recommend to council members is idling cameras on a rotating basis, which the city already has begun doing, or operating them at different intersections where red-light running is more habitual.

In the first case, cameras will remain perched above the intersections they monitor but won't snap pictures of red-light runners, and therefore, won't generate $75 civil citations, which the city mails to the offending vehicles' owners.

Ms. Basora noted, however, that most motorists won't realize this and behave as if the cameras are operational.

Dallas pays ACS a guaranteed $3,799 per month for each operational camera, and just a fraction of that to maintain inoperative cameras.

Safety vs. money

The results of Dallas' 2-year-old red-light camera system are mixed blessings for City Hall, Mayor Tom Leppert said.

"The good news is it's having the effect everyone in this community wants: fewer red lights being run. The goal was not to make money on this," Mr. Leppert said. "But these are numbers and realities we'll have to deal with."

The mayor added that under no circumstances does he expect a decrease in red-light camera revenue to affect the city's public safety budget, although the overall budget may not enjoy as much revenue, perhaps resulting in the city streamlining other items.

Council member Angela Hunt, long skeptical of the reasoning behind such camera systems, says she's not surprised Dallas is faced with altering its efforts to reduce red-light running.

"The idea of the red-light cameras is that they'll be used as a revenue generator instead of being implemented for public safety purposes. It's imperative that the council review this program, especially when the results don't align with the initial performance projections," Ms. Hunt said.

She cited national statistics suggesting that the cameras increase rear-end collisions.

Dallas officials haven't yet determined if such crashes, or crashes in general, have increased or decreased significantly because of red-light cameras.

But in Lubbock, the City Council voted 4-3 last month to terminate its red-light camera system, in part because of an increase in rear-end crashes.

Meanwhile, state Rep. Carl Isett, R-Lubbock, plans to introduce legislation next session banning red-light cameras statewide – a measure that failed last session.

Finding right number

Jim Baxter, president of the National Motorists Association, which opposes red-light camera systems, says he suspects Dallas' system will either meet its demise, or be noticeably scaled back.

"They're in between a rock and a hard place, and when the money goes away, the cameras go away," Mr. Baxter said. "Probably the only way they can sustain it is to raise the violation rates, despite all the protestation that this is about safety and not about revenue."

Dallas' red-light camera system will still generate revenue, Ms. Basora said, "but it won't be considerable."

Mayor Pro Tem Elba Garcia said Dallas' red-light cameras should remain because they're a proven tool in reducing red-light running. That's reason enough to keep them, she said.

"The golden question is how many cameras do we need? We'll have to look at the numbers carefully," Dr. Garcia said. "But for me, this has always been about safety, has always been about awareness. We did not do this for the money."

Anonymous said...

More on red light cameras from Dave Levinthal at the Dallas Morning News.

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