St. Petersburg City Council allowed the continuation of the red light camera program, following a more than three hour-long discussion, by not voting on whether to continue the project.
The number of cameras will grow from 22 to 31. The intersections include:
- Northbound at 34th Street and 1st Avenue S,
- Northbound and westbound at 34th Street and 22nd Avenue North
- Northbound and southbound at 34th Street and 5th Avenue N,
- Northbound and southbound at 66th Street and 13th Avenue North
- Northbound and westbound at 66th Street and 38th Avenue North.
Councilmember Wengay Newton did motion to end the red light camera contract, but it died for lack of a second. Ending the contract was the only authoritative decision the Council had the power to make to influence this project directly, though several councilmembers did want to recommend that the program not expand at this time.
As such, Councilmember Charlie Gerdes made a motion to “pass a resolution to request that Mayor Bill Foster maintain the status quo [of the red light camera program], the number of intersections and the number of cameras,” interjecting that he is “objecting to growing [the program] right now.”
This motion also did not pass. Councilmember Jim Kennedy explain his reason for voting down this motion was that “the job of City Council is not to administer the day to day functions of the city.”
He cautioned that this would be a slippery slope of the City Council interfering in the administrative powers of the mayor and expressed his concern about setting such a precedent.
The audience last night included several vocal critics of the program. Generally, they believe the city is using the program to generate revenue at the cost of public safety, stating that the total number of crashes increased where red light cameras were placed.
There was a significant debate sparked over crash data. Overall crashes reportedly rose between November and October 2011 with an emphasis placed on rear end crashes that occurred in the 10 intersections with red light cameras. These rear end crashes escalated 44 percent (64 to 92 crashes) while other crash-prone intersections without cameras only rose by 19 percent (52 to 62 crashes).
Also, total crashes rose by 10 percent in red light camera intersections (First reported by the Tampa Bay Times).
Yet, proponents of the program lauded the increased public safety made by the red light cameras, reciting data showing a marked decrease in in traffic accidents caused by drivers running red lights, as presented by Joe Kubicki, director of transportation and parking management for the City of St. Petersburg.
Data also reports a 25 percent decrease in crashes caused by running red lights and injuries falling by 39 percent, both numbers derived from the intersections with cameras.
“When we look at statistics and when we look at opinions to follow, I’m very comfortable following the advice and opinions of our traffic engineers and that department,” said Councilmember Jim Kennedy. He said that data is showing that people don’t get these tickets twice; “It is substantially changing behavior.”
Kennedy continued saying “The reduction of the devastating ‘t-bone accidents’ is the main reason I am supporting this.”
Councilmember Bill Dudley said that he understands that “there is a lot of opposition. This is a change in behavior.” Dudley made a comparison to the 60s when seatbelt laws were under debate and said that opponents claimed that forcing citizens to wear seatbelts violated their Constitutional rights. Dudley continued, “The program is in to alter people’s behavior. There is money tied to that just as there is to speeding.”
Dudley addressed the public accusation that the city is supporting this project only to generate revenue from traffic tickets. Dudley maintained that the money is a byproduct of the program not the reason for the program. The major reason is to increase public safety.
The city has issued 36,185 citations to drivers running red lights, during the first year using the red light cameras. This has resulted in $707,226 in net revenues for the city, after costs to the vendor and the state were paid.