The City of Tonawanda should rethink plans for installing red light cameras at three intersections.
There are legitimate questions about whether the cameras make intersections safer, and the huge sums of money involved make it seem that cash flow is the real reason behind the move.
The Common Council unanimously approved a resolution allowing City Attorney Ronald C. Trabucco and Mayor Ronald J. Pilozzi to sign an agreement with Phoenix-based Redflex Traffic Systems. The company would receive a fixed monthly fee of $4,350 for each of six cameras. The rent would come from fines paid by drivers, with excess income generated going to the city.
The intersections of Niagara and Seymour streets, Delaware and Broad streets and Twin City Memorial Highway and Young Street would each get two cameras.
The city still would have to get authorization from state lawmakers and would have to enact its own local ordinance. So far, it has wide support from the current Council members and several incoming elected officials, including Mayor-elect Rick Davis.
It’s a good time to pause, and the reason is simple. There is enough evidence out there suggesting that the cameras don’t improve safety.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported findings of an audit that found no evidence to substantiate the city’s claim that red light cameras have either reduced accidents or are installed at the most dangerous intersections.
USA Today cited a 2012 audit conducted in St. Petersburg, Fla., that showed the number of dangerous side-impact collisions at intersections decreased, but rear-end accidents increased as drivers stopped short to avoid violations.
About 540 communities across the country are using red light cameras, according to the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety. The cameras have stirred such controversy that some cities have eliminated them, including Houston and Los Angeles. The Minnesota Supreme Court determined that red light cameras in Minneapolis violated a car owner’s “presumption of innocence.”
In October 2010 Rochester became the nearest municipality to implement a red light camera program. Mayor Byron W. Brown explored the idea in 2009 and again in 2011. But some Common Council members vociferously opposed the idea, calling it a “money grab.”
No one can deny the monetary benefits these cameras can bring. Florida drivers caught by red light cameras paid more than $100 million in fines last year, according to USA Today.
The tickets generally cost about $100, although City of Tonawanda officials say the city would limit its fine to $50, with no points added to a driver’s license.
It goes without saying that running red lights is dangerous. But if safety is the goal of red light cameras, they should not generate any revenue for the city. And before sending more than $300,000 a year to a private company to operate the cameras, other measures should be tried first: reworked intersections, longer yellow lights, better police enforcement.
The questions of whether the cameras will save lives and whether the fines are a legitimate revenue stream should be enough for City of Tonawanda officials to start pumping the brakes on their plans.