Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Vestavia Hills to pay Redflex to "study" the need for red light cameras (RLC)

In a Birmingham News article Monday, Nov. 14, it was reported that the Vestavia Hills city council was going to vote on whether to allow the mayor to negotiate a contract with Redflex Traffic Systems to "study" the city's traffic and determine if the city could benefit from Redflex product(s).


Fire Redflex
Here's a peek into the future: yes, Redflex will determine that Vestavia Hills needs to buy their product(s).


I tried four times, unsuccessfully, to post a comment to the story on al.com, so I'm going to share my initial thoughts below:


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Unfortunately for Council President Rice, these cameras won't affect stop sign intersections. I believe her comments reflect the depth of her understanding of this issue. [the article quoted Ms. Rice as saying "I can tell you we do (have a problem with drivers running red lights and speeding) because I was almost killed pulling into my subdivision the other day when some guy ran the stop sign."]


If you lengthen the duration of the yellow lights at least by .5-1.5 seconds (but no longer than 5.5 seconds) and have the red lights last for a full second before the other direction turns green, you will see a decrease in accidents. The lengthened yellow light can account for a 50% decrease alone. [1] Numerous studies have shown that red light cameras do not always result in lower traffic accidents at intersections: they can also result in a higher number of accidents, especially rear end collisions.


See the statistical analyses of red light cameras (RLC) in Chicago by UIC Professor Rajiv Shah in 2010, where the total number of accidents at RLC intersections increased after they were installed. [2][3][4][5][6]


See the 2004 study of 17,271 crashes by North Carolina A&T State University showed that RLC increased the number of crashes by 40%. [7]


See the 2005 Virginia DOT study of the long-term effects of camera enforcement throughout Virginia and found that the overall number of crashes at intersections with RLC increased. [8]


See the Federal Highway Administration's 2005 study suggesting that although RLC reduce right-angle crashes, they can increase the number of rear-end collisions, leading to the total number of collisions remaining unchanged. [9]


See the Los Angeles Controller's letter to the L.A. city council affirming that the RLC there did not increase public safety. [10]


In 2010, the state of Arizona did not renew their Redflex contract for 76 photo enforcement cameras. [11]


In addition, how will the cameras tell who is driving a car and, therefore, at fault in running a red light? Are they going to assume one of the registered owners are driving it? What will the process be for disputing a machine-generated traffic ticket, whereby you cannot face your accuser in court? Will the fines have to be much higher than they are now to cover the high cost of installing the RLC and to hire a company to run them and generate the tickets?


I think Council President Rice is misinformed: probably by a Redflex salesman who promises the city will pull in more revenue due to more tickets. For a recent list of cities and municipalities that have removed RLC (by Redflex and others) recently, see http://fireredflex.com/cameras.html.


Photo by Horia Varlan
Instead of wasting money on this private camera system, I think Vestavia should:


1) Use larger traffic signal heads at intersections
2) Place traffic signal heads in the most conspicuous places
3) Use the most optimal yellow light length of time (iirc, up to 5.5 seconds)
4) Add (or lengthen) a "clearance" phase, during which all directions of traffic have a red light before switching to the next green light.
5) Educate people not to drive while drowsy, intoxicated, or distracted (cell phone or other hand held devices).
6) Re-time lights so that drivers encounter fewer red ones.


I don't think Ms. Rice has done enough research in this area. I hope the entire city council with give it more thought than she apparently has.


[1] http://tcd.tamu.edu/Documents/4196-1.pdf
[2] http://www.smartcamerasblog.com/2010/06/accident-rates-in-chicago-part-1-of-a-report-on-red-light-cameras-in-chicago/
[3] http://www.smartcamerasblog.com/2010/06/accident-rates-at-traffic-signals-in-chicago-part-2-of-a-report-on-red-light-cameras-in-chicago/
[4] http://www.smartcamerasblog.com/2010/06/evaluating-red-light-cameras-in-chicago-part-3-of-a-report-on-red-light-cameras-in-chicago/
[5] http://www.smartcamerasblog.com/2010/07/accidents-at-red-light-cameras-in-chicago-citys-data-part-4-of-a-report-on-red-light-cameras-in-chicago/
[6] http://www.google.com/fusiontables/DataSource?dsrcid=170706
[7] http://www.motorists.org/red-light-cameras/crash-risk-study
[8] http://vtrc.virginiadot.org/PubDetails.aspx?PubNo=07-R2
[9] http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/publications/research/safety/05048/
[10] http://controller.lacity.org/stellent/groups/electedofficials/@ctr_contributor/documents/contributor_web_content/lacityp_011808.pdf
[11] http://redflex.com/public_documents/asx_announcements/2010-05-06%20Arizona%20Speed%20Contract.pdf
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Unfortunately for the taxpayer citizens of Vestavia Hills, the city council voted 4-1 to authorize the mayor to contract with Redflex to "study" whether Vestavia Hills needed to purchase their product. Not only will the city waste money for a private business to "determine" that the city will need to purchase their products, but the city will waste money on a product(s) that is designed to generate revenue instead of lowering the number of intersection collisions. 


For more information on why anyone living/working in/near Vestavia needs to voice opposition to "idea" to Mayor Zaragoza and the city council, peruse http://fireredflex.com

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