Sent October 3, 2011:
Dear Members of the City Council,
I have seen the Mayor's TV ad about red light cameras and how they are about safety and saving lives, I saw the flier that the city put in with my water bill, with some questionable statements on it(see response flier), and I've made note of the intersections that the Mayor and his staff decided to put the red light cameras at in our city, and then I looked those intersections up in the $99,000 consultant intersection safety report and I was quite puzzled. It reminded me of that sesame street song, "which one of these is not like the others...", the intersection of 54th Ave. N. and 4th St. N. stuck out like a sore thumb. It is ranked 83rd most dangerous intersection in the city, 30th in red light running crash frequency and 136th in red light running crash severity. The only explanation I could think of was, maybe there was a fatal crash here that explains why it got red light cameras, so I got the list of the 11 fatal crashes that happened in the city in the last 3 years, nope, in fact there were no fatal signalized intersection crashes north of 30th Ave N in the city in the last 3 years.
So I decided to call and email with various members of the city staff and police department. No one on the staff can tell me why this intersection was chosen over the 72 more dangerous intersections in the city that are not getting cameras. The Mayor has talked so much about safety and saving lives, yet one of the more dangerous intersections that was not chosen for red light cameras, MLK and 22nd Ave. N., has had repeat fatal crashes in just the last three years with a total of 5 people dead. In fact, NONE of the signalized intersections where people have actually died at in the last 3 years were chosen to receive red light cameras, NONE. The only answer I got back was that the intersection of 54th and 4th was NOT chosen because it was a dangerous intersection, it was chosen for other factors. I am still waiting on an answer for why those "other factors" were more important at this intersection than the 72 more dangerous intersections in the city that did not get the cameras.
I would also like to give you an update on what American Traffic Solutions(ATS), the company that you have decided to outsource this law enforcement function to, has been up to for the last few months since the city council voted to sign a contract with them in April.
The above events were all just from the last few months.
And on the subject of the contract with ATS, I have a copy of the final signed contract and I really would like to applaud the city's legal staff for writing in the following escape clause: (from point number 4),
"Termination due to Legislative Action: If legislation is passed that repeals HB325/Chapter 2010-80, the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Program, or if any laws are enacted that prohibits the operation of the Intersection Public Safety Program (as known as the Traffic Infraction Detector program), or IF ANY OTHER LEGAL AUTHORITY PROHIBITS THE OPERATION OF THE INTERSECTION PUBLIC SAFETY PROGRAM (as known as the Traffic Infraction Detector program), this Agreement shall automatically terminate with no notice required to be given by either party."
According to the portion I put in ALL CAPS, a simple reversal of the City Council's vote on the ordinance authorizing red light cameras in the city would mean that the program could be ended at any time with no financial penalty. In light of this, I would like to encourage you to vote to repeal the ordinance authorizing the use of red light cameras before they have a chance to cause damage to our city.
Sent March 12, 2011:
Dear Members of the City Council,
Sent October 7, 2010:
Dear City Councilmembers, St. Petersburg - 2010-10-07
I wanted to bring to your attention that the St Petersburg Public Services & Infrastructure Committee report from September 30 contains some very misleading and one-sided statements about Red-Light Cameras, and I wanted to let you know the whole picture about red-light cameras now that you have approved their use in our city.
The statement of a 50% reduction in right-angle crashes is mentioned in the FHWA(Federal Highway Administration) "Safety Evaluation of Red-Light Cameras" report, but only in a reference to a 1993 Australian study that also mentions upto a 60% increase in rear-end collisions, which is not mentioned in the Committee report. As for the statement of a 75% reduction over 3 years, there is nothing in the FHWA report to support this. Also, the statement that the FHWA is "encouraging implementation nationwide", does not appear anywhere in the report in text or in spirit. Instead, the following statements are mentioned several times in the conclusions of the FHWA report: "There was indeed a modest aggregate crash cost benefit of RLC systems... The indications of a spillover effect point to a need for a more definitive study...", a very different message than was being presented to the committee.
One other point that the FHWA website mentions in it's Q&A section is "Question: Do public agencies use photo enforcement to generate revenue? Answer: Red-light cameras should only be used to enhance traffic safety. The goal of red-light camera programs should strictly be to reduce crashes and the resulting injuries and deaths", which is contradicts by the committee statements of the estimated millions of dollars beyond the costs of the program that the city can collect from red-light-camera tickets to use for other purposes, as well as the adding the estimated profit from this program into the city budget.
Another point from the FHWA website: “Question: If cities are financially dependent on the revenue these devices bring in; doesn't that actually discourage implementing engineering solutions that would make intersections safer? Answer: ...Red-light running is a complex issue that needs to be addressed through a comprehensive approach that includes engineering, enforcement and education solutions. In many areas, red-light camera programs have not produced profits to cities. One example is the finding of the California State Auditor that 'local governments themselves make little or no profit from their programs.'." This is confirmed here in Florida by a Collier County report that shows their RLC ticket rate has fallen 80% in the last year.
Another claim made to the committee that "rear-end collisions are far less dangerous and damaging than angle crashes" is directly contradicted by the data on the FHWA website that shows that after red-light-cameras are implemented, rear-end collision injuries increase by 24%, and angle collision injuries decrease by only 16%.
The whole picture is even worse for red light camera systems than what was presented to the Committee when you look past the FHWA report, with the majority of studies published in the last several years showing no improvement in overall safety at all.
One very recent report is an audit released just last week by the Controller of the City of Los Angeles, California of their red-light-camera program which has been running for 10 years. The audit shows that not only has there been no improvement in safety at the red-light-camera intersections, but the city actually lost money on the program. The Los Angeles RLC program at 32 intersections is very similar to the one proposed in St Petersburg with 20 intersections, along with the city having to share the revenue with the state in a similar amount as our city will have to with our state. If they can't make it work there after 10 years, what makes us think we can make it work here.
Two more studies released in the last couple months in Chicago and Winnepeg, show an increase in accidents at red light camera intersections(of 5% and 18% respectively) whereas the non-red-light-camera-intersections in those cities showed a decrease in accidents over the same time period.
Another report from the city of Charlotte, NC came out last month showing that city's accident rate is lower last year than it has been in 10 years, the interesting part is that Charlotte had red-light-cameras until 2006 when they removed them, and the accident rate has plummeted since then. One of the reasons Charlotte removed their red light cameras back then was because of the North Carolina study by the Urban Transit Institute of over 4 years of data that shows: "The results do not support the view that red light cameras reduce crashes. Instead, we find that RLCs are associated with higher levels of many types and severity categories of crashes".
Add to this the more comprehensive seven-year study by the Virginia Department of Transportation that concludes that red-light cameras lead to an overall increase in accidents.
It should also be mentioned that several municipalities in Florida have recently rejected red-light-cameras, including in Brooksville this summer where their 2-year-old red-light camera program was scrapped because of citizen backlash and a negative impact on tourism.