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No more red light cameras in The Woodlands
Commissioner says project was problematic since the beginning
By Lindsay Peyton | May 14, 2013
Montgomery County officials have put a stop to red light cameras in The Woodlands.
County attorneys are still working to end the contract - but law enforcement stopped monitoring the cameras on March 31. It will take some time to take the cameras down.
"It's a process," said Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack. "They haven't been removed, but we aren't enforcing them.
In 2007, cameras were placed at two intersections in the community, and in the past six years, the number has increased to 10.
Noack said the cameras, have not been earning their keep - and are actually costing the county money.
He said that the cameras have been problematic for the county since the beginning.
"Before you install the red lights, you're supposed to run a study of the intersection and see it there's a high number of incidents there," Noack said.
The precinct then must conduct a study should every year to see if the red light cameras are reducing the number of traffic violations.
Noack said that since he was elected to office in November, he has not found any proof of the studies. He said he could not say the studies were not completed - but he cannot provide the necessary evidence.
"We can't get our hands on that data," Noack said. "We don't know where the data is."
The lack of evidence cost RedFlex, the contracted operators of the camera enforcement system, $200,000 in fine reimbursements to drivers, Noack said.
He added that the cameras also require certain road signs.
They have signs indicating their presence, but they do not have the signs stating that those who run the stoplights will be fined for $75.
"None of the 10 intersections comply with statutes," Noack said.
Noack said the cameras cost the country $46,000 a month, which accounts for a large portion of his $5 million annual budget.
"When you add it up, that's over a half million a year," he said.
"We operate these intersections at a loss."
When the cameras do earn a profit, 50 percent goes to the state, Noack added.
Besides, Noack said the cameras do not necessarily reduce traffic violations.
"We don't have any proof that these intersections are any safer than the ones without cameras," he said.
The cameras also require extra staff time to monitor, which further increases their associated costs, Noack said.
The constable was spending 8 to 10 hours a week on hearings, deputies were spending 10 to 15 hours a week reviewing footage, and another staff member spent 20 hours a week on the project, Noack explained.
"It was very time consuming," Constable Ryan Gable said.
"We spent a huge amount of time dedicating a majority of my staff to just handling the administrative aspects of RedFlex."
Besides, Gable felt it was not fair to residents that his office reported the violations and he tried the hearings.
"I felt like there was a conflict of interest there," he said.
"I think there was a problem with the system, the way it was set up."
Jody Ryan, director of communications, Redflex Traffic Systems, Inc., commented on the county's stopping of the cameras.
"Montgomery County sent a purported letter of termination to Redflex seeking to terminate the contract effective March, 2013," Ryan said. "Redflex values our relationship with the county, and will evaluate our options."
Noack said restoring the funds spent on red light cameras to the county will be beneficial.
"I think we could deploy that funding for better purposes," he said. "There's all kinds of stuff we could do in Montgomery County."
Noack would like to see those funds redirected to building or working on roads.
"I just decided that it's better to use the law enforcement we have to patrol these intersections," he said.
"When you factor all those costs, it's burdensome.
"I'd rather use that money more wisely."
Gable said abandoning the cameras allows his staff to get out of the office and back on the street.
"It puts my personnel back doing proactive law enforcement," he said.
"It makes us more responsive to calls, keeping our children safe and our roadways safe."
He also believes that law officers have better judgment than cameras when it comes to reporting violations.
"We really thought long and hard about our situation," Gable said.
"I think it's going to benefit the county from a financial standpoint and possibly a safety standpoint."
County residents seem to support the decision, Noack said.
"Based on rough polls, 82 percent of the public are behind us on this," he said.
"The public doesn't support them, we're losing money, we don't have any proof of improved safety.
"Why keep them going?"
"I think it's the right thing to do."
Chicago, Illinois Inspector General Rejects Red Light Camera Justification
City audit shows Chicago, Illinois unable to justify red light cameras as a safety tool.
There is no evidence that the world's largest red light camera program is operated as a safety program, according to a report released Tuesday by the inspector general for the city of Chicago, Illinois. The independent investigation comes as Redflex Traffic Systems continues to operate every aspect of the automated ticketing program despite Mayor Rahm Emanuel's promise to cut ties with the Australian firm.
Earlier this year, Redflex was caught in a $2 million bribery scheme http://www.thenewspaper.com/news/40/4040.asp designed to ensure Windy City officials would continue adding new cameras to boost the company's bottom line. The audit results are consistent with the suggestion that the locations for the new cameras were selected for the benefit of Redflex, not city residents.
"CDOT [the Chicago Department of Transportation] was unable to substantiate its claims that the city chose to install red-light cameras at intersections with the highest angle crash rates in order to increase safety," the report found. "Neither do we know, from the information provided by CDOT, why cameras in locations with no recent angle crashes have not been relocated, nor what the city's rationale is for the continued operation of any individual camera at any individual location."
The city gave Redflex $19.1 million for 384 cameras stationed at 190 intersections. Redflex has no financial incentive to issue additional tickets because it is paid the same $52,740 annual fee for each camera whether the location issues 328 citations or 19,805 (the lowest and highest volumes recorded at an intersection, respectively). In 2012, Redflex issued 612,278 tickets, collecting $71,943,053 in revenue.
Redflex offers a turn-key operation, leaving municipalities with no true responsibilities. So when the inspector general asked for crash data that might justify the cameras, Chicago responded that it does not collect the sort of reliable data that the audit requested. An independent analysis conducted by a University of Chicago adjunct professor in 2010 found no accident reduction where cameras were used (view report http://www.thenewspaper.com/news/31/3175.asp). The city also failed to provide any documentation that the yellow signal timing at the photo enforced locations is appropriate for traffic conditions. Chicago just uses a blanket 3 seconds for intersections with a 30 MPH posted speed limit and 4 seconds for 35 MPH intersections.
"We found a lack of basic recordkeeping and an alarming lack of analysis for an ongoing program that costs tens of millions of dollars a year and generates tens of millions more in revenue," the report stated.
The inspector general recommended the city come up with guidelines regarding selection of camera locations that would allow independent verification of whether continued camera use makes sense. When Chicago names another vendor to take over the red light camera program, Redflex will walk away having earned $106 million since the program began.
A copy of the audit report is available in a 1.1mb PDF file at the source link below.
Source: Red light camera installation audit (Inspector General, City of Chicago, 5/14/2013) http://www.thenewspaper.com/rlc/docs/2013/il-chicagoaudit.pdf
Murfreesboro CAPE: They have CLOSE TO HALF OF SIGNATURES NEEDED ON RLC BAN PETITION!
We're almost halfway to hitting our goal of 1,000 signatures to eliminate photo enforcement. More and more citizens are seeing through the smoke and mirrors and realizing the cameras are only making things worse. Sign the petition at www.murfreesboroCAPE.org and "Like" us on Facebook!
New Report Casts Doubt On Safety Claims Of City’s Red Light Camera Program
May 14, 2013 Red Light Cameras
For years, opponents of Chicago’s red light cameras have argued the program was not based on improving traffic safety, but on generating tens of millions of dollars in annual revenue.
On Tuesday, a report released by the Chicago Inspector General’s Office http://theexpiredmeter.com/2013/05/new-report-casts-doubt-on-safety-claims-of-citys-red-light-camera-program/red-light-camera-audit-final/ seems to back up critics’ claims and, according to one alderman, undermines the basis for the program’s existence.
“Our audit uncovered little evidence that the overarching program strategy, guidelines, or appropriate metrics are being used to ensure the [Red Light Camera] program is being executed to the best benefit of the City or the general public,” the report summarized.
“Specifically, we found a lack of basic record keeping and an alarming lack of analysis for an ongoing program that costs tens of millions of dollars a year and generates tens of millions more in revenue.”
The inspector general’s office started an audit of the city’s extensive red light camera program earlier this year in response to revelations of an internal investigation by current vendor Redflex Traffic Systems. That investigation, headed by former Inspector General David Hoffman, alleges employees for Redflex may have bribed the former city official overseeing the city’s RLC program.
Read more at DNA Info Chicago. http://www.dnainfo.com/chicago/20130514/chicago/new-report-casts-doubt-on-safety-claims-of-citys-red-light-camera-program
Thanks to Allen and the NMA on sharing this:
Our audit's findings can be summarized in two simple points.
First, CDOT was unable to substantiate its claims that the City chose to install red-light cameras at intersections with the highest angle crash rates in order to increase safety. Neither do we know, from the information provided by CDOT, why cameras in locations with no recent angle crashes have not been relocated, nor what the City's rationale is for the continued operation of any individual camera at any individual location.
Second, our audit uncovered little evidence that the overarching program strategy, guidelines, or appropriate metrics are being used to ensure the RLC program is being executed to the best benefit of the City or the general public. Specifically, we found a lack of basic recordkeeping and an alarming lack of analysis for an ongoing program that costs tens of millions of dollars a year and generates tens of millions more in revenue.
The majority of these camera location decisions were made five or more years ago, when virtually none of CDOT's current leadership was involved with the program. However, cameras installed years ago are still in operation today and have been throughout the two-year tenure of CDOT's current leadership. Yet the Department cannot produce documentation demonstrating how each camera location was chosen, or why cameras in locations with no recent angle crashes have not been relocated pursuant to CDOT's relocation criteria. If the intent of the RLC program is to increase safety and reduce the number of dangerous angle crashes, it is troubling that CDOT cannot produce documentation or an analysis demonstrating how each camera location was chosen, including all of those currently in operation, was chosen.
Florida quietly shortened yellow light standards & lengths, resulting in more red light camera tickets for you
11:39 AM, May 14, 2013 |
TAMPA BAY, Florida -- A subtle, but significant tweak to Florida's rules regarding traffic signals has allowed local cities and counties to shorten yellow light intervals, resulting in millions of dollars in additional red light camera fines.
The 10 News Investigators discovered the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) quietly changed the state's policy on yellow intervals in 2011, reducing the minimum below federal recommendations. The rule change was followed by engineers, both from FDOT and local municipalities, collaborating to shorten the length of yellow lights at key intersections, specifically those with red light cameras (RLCs).
While yellow light times were reduced by mere fractions of a second, research indicates a half-second reduction in the interval can double the number of RLC citations -- and the revenue they create. The 10 News investigation stemmed from a December discovery of a dangerously short yellow light in Hernando County. After the story aired, the county promised to re-time all of its intersections, and the 10 News Investigators promised to dig into yellow light timing all across Tampa Bay.
Red light cameras generated more than $100 million in revenue last year in approximately 70 Florida communities, with 52.5 percent of the revenue going to the state. The rest is divided by cities, counties, and the camera companies. In 2013, the cameras are on pace to generate $120 million.
"Red light cameras are a for-profit business between cities and camera companies and the state," said James Walker, executive director of the nonprofit National Motorists Association. "The (FDOT rule-change) was done, I believe, deliberately in order that more tickets would be given with yellows set deliberately too short."
The National Motorists Association identifies itself as a grassroots group that's been advocating for drivers since 1982. It fought the national 55 mph speed limit and is now campaigning against red light camera technology, contending the technology primarily targets safe drivers who are victims of short yellow lights or safely roll through right turns.
Proponents of the technology hang their hats on a reduction of serious accidents at RLC intersections. They also point out that every electronically generated violation is reviewed by a local police officer or sheriff's deputy before a citation is validated and sent to a driver. But questions about the fairness and constitutionality of RLCs linger, with questionable motivations of the state's yellow light reductions likely to add fuel to the fire.
FDOT CHANGES THE RULES
Yellow light times are calculated by a complex formula that takes into account variables such as the size of an intersection, the incline/decline of the roadway, driver reaction time, and deceleration rate. But ultimately, the proper intervals come down to a driver's approach speed.
When the Florida legislature approved 2010's Mark Wandell Act, regulating red light cameras across the state, FDOT had a long-standing rule that mandated yellow light calculations factor in either the posted speed limit or 85th percentile of drivers' actual speed -- whichever was greater. The point of the law was to calculate safe stopping times for the majority of drivers on any given roadway.
But in 2011, FDOT struck the "whichever is greater" language from its Traffic Engineering Manual (TEM), reducing minimum yellow light lengths and allowing communities to re-time their signals at RLC intersections.
The 10 News Investigators found a number of communities shortened their already-safe intervals to the new minimums. In some cases, FDOT mandated longer yellow lights, but seemingly only at intersections that hadn't been in compliance for years. Around Greater Tampa Bay, the yellow interval reductions typically took place at RLC intersections and corridors filled with RLC cameras.
FDOT's change in language may have been subtle, but the effects were quite significant. The removal of three little words meant the reduction of yellow light intervals of up to a second, meaning drastically more citations for drivers. A 10 News analysis indicates the rule change is likely costing Florida drivers millions of dollars a year.
"I think it's immoral to do that," Walker said. "You're basically punishing safe drivers with deliberately improper engineering. That's not moral to me."
But FDOT claims it had no financial motive to shorten yellow lights; the agency doesn't receive any direct payments from RLC fines. The state's portion of each $158 citation is split between its General Revenue Fund ($70), the Department of Health Administrative Trust Fund ($10), and Spinal Cord Injury Trust Fund ($3).
FDOT Traffic Operations engineer Mark Wilson said the agency was merely cleaning up language in its TEM to match federal guidelines. But 10 News found Florida's rules were already in compliance with federal guidelines, and there are no federal suggestions discouraging the use of "whichever is greater." FDOT is also ignoring numerous other federal guidelines (see below) that encourage longer yellow intervals.
The 10 News Investigators showed Wilson the emails from FDOT engineers in Tampa Bay, obtained through public records requests, instructing Pasco County officials in February 2012 to reduce the yellow light intervals on U.S. 19 from the already-short 4.5 seconds to the bare minimum 4.3 seconds. Wilson said he was not aware of the instructions and the engineer, who has since retired, misunderstood the purpose of the rule change.
"Those are (only) minimums. So some of the engineers said, 'Well, it's got to be that exact number.' That's not true. It has to be at least that number," Wilson said.
Wilson added that original language of the Mark Wandell Act required communities to perform engineering studies before installing RLCs, in order to comply with federal recommendations and determine drivers' actual approach speeds. But the requirement never made it into the final bill, allowing communities to install RLCs without any consideration of drivers' actual speed or the time it would take them to stop safely.
FLORIDA IGNORING NATIONAL STANDARDS, OPTING FOR SHORTER YELLOWS
Numerous U.S. Dept. of Transportation (USDOT) documents provide guidance to municipalities on how to install and operate RLC intersections. But FDOT and Florida communities are by-and-large ignoring those recommendations when it comes to yellow light intervals.
A USDOT/Federal Highway Administration (FHA) report said cities should not use speed limit in the yellow interval equation because it results "in more red light violations and higher crash rates." And if drivers' average speeds cannot be calculated, it's recommended engineers use the "speed limit plus 10 mph" variable to producing more conservative, and safer, yellow intervals.
Another report stresses the importance of using 85th percentile speed to calculate yellow intervals, while slide 28 on this report indicates when yellow light times are lengthened, severe crashes drop.
USDOT also recommends an extra half-second of yellow time at intersections with lots of trucks or elderly drivers to allow them to react safely. And despite the fact that Greater Tampa Bay is home to five of the nation's 12 oldest counties (by median age), it's also home to some of the shortest yellow lights.
"I'm not a law-breaker," said Pasco County retiree Shirley Nagle, who got a red light violation on U.S. 19 after more than five decades without a traffic citation.
Nagle entered the RLC intersection about half a second too late in February, and was issued a $158 ticket, which soon became a $262 fine after she didn't pay it immediately. She told 10 News that she spent 32 years working in the New Jersey courts system and would never break the law. She was just proceeding through the intersection because she thought it was the safest option for her.
"It's terrible," she said of Port Richey's RLCs and short yellow lights. "I think they're cheating the people!"
Wilson told 10 News that FDOT would likely approve any city's request to add a half-second to yellow light times to allow older drivers more time to react and safely stop, but none have.
Wilson also says FDOT is in the process of increasing the "Perception Reaction Time" variable in its statewide yellow light formulas from 1.0 to 1.3 seconds. That would add the 1/3 of a second to yellow light intervals statewide, to better accommodate Florida drivers.
SHORTER YELLOWS: WHO'S DOING IT?
FDOT's revised TEM provides bare minimum yellow light intervals for RLC intersections, based on speed limit. While the formula can fluctuate if the approach grade isn't flat, no consideration is mandated for drivers' actual approach speed:
|Approach Speed||Yellow Interval|
|25 mph||3.0 sec|
|30 mph||3.2 sec|
|35 mph||3.6 sec|
|40 mph||4.0 sec|
|45 mph||4.3 sec|
|50 mph||4.7 sec|
|55 mph||5.0 sec|
|60 mph||5.4 sec|
|65 mph||5.8 sec|
Ban the Cams note: NMA recommended minimum Amber times.
25 MPH -- 3.0 Seconds
30 MPH -- 3.5 Seconds
35 MPH -- 4.0 Seconds
40 MPH -- 4.5 Seconds
45 MPH -- 5.0 Seconds
50 MPH -- 5.5 Seconds
55 MPH -- 6.0 Seconds
But 10 News found numerous communities using , or skirting, the minimums:
•Port Richey, New Port Richey, and FDOT collaborated to reduce yellow light times along U.S. 19 from 4.5 seconds to the bare minimum, 4.3 seconds.
•An FDOT analyst instructed New Port Richey to reduce its yellow light interval for the Main St. RLC (at U.S. 19) from 4.0 seconds to the bare minimum, 3.0 seconds.
•Hillsborough County shortened the yellow interval on Bell Shoals Road (at Bloomingdale) in Valrico from 4.0 seconds to the bare minimum, 3.6 seconds.
•Tampa has yellow lights below the state's 4.0-second minimum for 45mph zones at Hillsborough/Nebraska and Adamo/50th. Those RLC intersections turn red after just 3.9 seconds; city engineers claim the complex yellow light formula allows them to go below the TEM minimums.
•St. Petersburg had yellow intervals that were shorter than FDOT minimums, but alert resident Matt Florell pointed them out and the city fixed them. Florell said thousands of citations were issued inappropriately, while a city engineer said four intersections had slight "malfunctions," where the yellow lights were only off by 0.1 seconds. Either way, ticketed drivers were not notified of the issues and no refunds were offered.
•Oldsmar had a similar issue, where its intersection at Tampa Rd. and SR-580 (State St.) was improperly timed. The yellow light was just 3.0 seconds instead of 4.3 seconds. When the problem was addressed last fall, citations plummeted by 90 percent. But no notices, or refunds, went out to ticketed drivers.
FDOT's new rules didn't shorten every RLC intersection's yellow lights; many cities and counties had lights that were so far out of compliance the new minimums actually increased the intervals. Tampa and Hillsborough County both increased some intersections in recent years, but most in their jurisdictions remain at the bare minimum.
St. Petersburg city councilman Charlie Gerdes has also been pushing his city to lengthen its yellow intervals, about half of which are at the state minimum, but Gerdes has had trouble getting the entire council to follow him on the issue.
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