By: Sharon Aron Baron
Tamarac’s Mayor and City Commissioners recently voted to install red light cameras at intersections throughout our city because according to them, safety is a big concern in here in Tamarac.
However, I think they confused our residents’ concern over crime safety with intersection safety.
In November, the City of Tamarac signed a three-year contract with American Traffic Solutions or ATS to provide red light cameras at various intersections but failed to provide statistics to justify their need in the first place.
According to FDOT, there were 56 deaths in the entire state of Florida for running red lights in 2011.
The public was not informed of how many deaths, or even accidents in Tamarac have resulted in red light runners.
Since safety is our city’s goal, they could have reduced violations and improved safety by only adjusting the timing of our yellow lights.
According to Safer Streets LA, Loma Linda CA, city officials increased the yellow signal time by 0.3 seconds and saw an immediate 75% decrease in violations from a monthly average of 197 per month to an average of 50 per month.
When the yellow time was increased an additional 1.0 seconds, violations decreased a further 92% to an average of 4 per month. The total decrease in violations in Loma Linda was 98% when the yellow time was increased from the original 4.0 seconds to 5.3 seconds.
The initial reduction in violations was maintained for three years until the yellow signal time was increased further. The second reduction in violations was maintained for an additional year through the end of the red light camera program in November of 2010 when data was no longer available. That’s four years of longer yellow times with no evidence that drivers adjusted to the longer yellow.
As for concerns that drivers will modify their behavior to account for the longer yellow light and still run the red, the data shows that such an adjustment does not happen provided the yellow time does not exceed about 5.5 seconds.
The same thing happened when yellow lights were extended in Fremont, CA and Los Angelas is considering this as well.
City engineers have recently finished making adjustments at all current and past red light camera intersections after an independent study concluded that certain traffic improvements will reduce crashes.
The adjustments include changing the length of yellow lights by as long as 1/2 second at 18 intersections and increasing the length of time for which all directions stay red to as long as six tenths of a second at two intersections.
In October, Mayor Berry promised that all red light camera intersections would undergo traffic engineering improvements after an independent study conducted by the University of New Mexico’s Institute for Social Research revealed that certain engineering improvements have historically reduced crashes throughout the country. The study also concluded that overall crashes had increased at red light camera intersections while injury and more serious crashes decreased.
As a result of the study, Mayor Berry announced in October he would reduce the program from 17 intersections to 14 and eliminate the speed component of the program.
“This program is about public safety,” Mayor Berry said. “We can make intersections safer by doing more than just installing a red light camera.”
According to the Newspaper.com, Commissioners in Collier County, Florida voted 3-2 on December 12 to pull the plug on red light cameras. The devices have stirred controversy and class action lawsuits since ticketing began at ten county intersections on April 30, 2009. Though opinion on the board of commissioners was divided on the wisdom of continuing the program, city officials were unanimous in demanding an increase in the duration of the yellow lights at intersections.
“We basically need to look at alternatives to red light cameras to improve safety for the benefit of the public,” board chairman Georgia A. Hiller said. “There is no evidence that supports the need to keep these red light cameras.”
“I agree with you about the re-timing of the lights,” Fiala said. “I think it’s a good idea. If they’re timed properly maybe people won’t be running red lights.”
Two years ago, Collier County shortened the duration of the yellow light at intersections with 45 MPH speed limits from 4.5 seconds to 4.3 seconds. Though 0.20 second represents the time it takes to blink an eye, the vast majority of all citable violations happen within the first 0.25 seconds a light turns red. The commissioners voted to direct city staff to produce a report by the first board meeting in February documenting efforts to improve safety with longer yellows. By March 1, American Traffic Solutions (ATS) will be forced to begin pulling down its red light cameras.
“I’m very anxious to get rid of this onerous program,” Commissioner Tim Nance said. “It’s been harmful to our tourist industry, I don’t think it’s been helpful from a safety aspect.”
In February, the county agreed to pay ATS $522,454 to settle a contract dispute. For eighteen months, the county clerk withheld payment to the Arizona-based firm over a concern about whether the citations being issued were illegal. Along with the settlement, the previous board inked a ten-year contract with ATS, a move that sparked public opposition.
“American Traffic Solutions, in their quest for revenue, has caused legal problems for this county, and there are more to come,” Vinny Angiolillo, a candidate for sheriff, warned at the February board meeting. “American Traffic Solutions has raped this community of money from our hard-working citizens with no significant reduction of traffic accidents at intersections where the cameras are active.”
Hiller, a long-time opponent of red light cameras on constitutional grounds, convinced a majority of her colleagues to exercise the red light camera contract’s cancellation clause, sending notice to ATS that the cameras were no longer welcome.
It’s Not Too Late For Us
By adjusting yellow lights on traffic signals, City of Tamarac would have an economical option available that would achieve a greater safety benefit than the recently contracted multi-million dollar red-light camera program.
The cost to change signal timing is insignificant compared to the high cost of red light cameras.
There is no reason not to immediately implement this simple strategy here in our city.
Unfortunately, the city has made a deal with ATI to potentially make millions. Any adjustment in extending yellow lights would result in less of a windfall for both our city and for them.
However, if safety is our Mayor and City Commissioners first priority, then there would be no reason why this simple fix wouldn’t be implemented right away.